Free Phone Service Using the Obi and Google Voice

Landlines are so passe, aren’t they? I have been using VOIP for a while now, as have many people. I started with Vonage, moved to whatever cable provider I happened to have at the time (meaning I have experienced both Comcast and Verizon), switched to Ooma, and now, I have no actual phone service at all. Instead, I use a device called an Obi to connect my phone to the Internet for no monthly fees. That’s right folks, zero bucks per month. The device I use is called an Obihai OBi200.

What is the Obi and How Does it Work?

The Obi200 is a small box, about the size of your hand, that enables you to have completely free phone service. The Obi200 allows you to pay for service with various providers too, but currently, with Google Voice, it is entirely free to make calls throughout the US and Canada. The day may come when Google does away with its service. Or decides to start charging for it. For the moment though, calls in the US and Canada are free for me to make or receive. All because of this $50 device.

What is Google Voice?

Google Voice is a free phone service from Google. Initially, I used Google Voice as an extra phone number for business contacts to reach me. This enabled me to keep my cell phone number private. Calls to the Google Voice number were forwarded to my cell phone. I could also call out using the Google Voice app, preventing people from knowing my true mobile number. There is also voicemail that transcribes and sends me messages, a do not disturb mode, and other useful features.

Can You Keep Your Phone Number?

You can keep your phone number with Google Voice. If the number is already a mobile number, you can go through the porting process and port your number to Google. If you decide to leave Google in the future you can always port your number to another provider. If your number is not already mobile, you first have to port it to a mobile service. There are a variety of ways to do this. The easiest way is to buy an inexpensive pay-as-you-go mobile phone, port the number you want to use to that phone, and then port it over to Google. The mobile phone carrier will be able to help you with the porting process from landline to mobile. If you do not need to keep the same number, you can choose a new number with Google. Enter the area code you want, and Google will provide a series of phone numbers from which you may choose.

Can You Have More Than One Phone Call At A Time?

You may have a need for more than one phone line. The Obi can help with that too. The Obihai Obi202 offers two ports for two different lines. With the Obi202 you may have two calls at once.

You can see the 202 looks very similar to the 200. It is simply larger. The cost is about twice as much, at just under $100. There is also an Obi212 that offers some additional options, but no more lines.

What Phone Do You Use with an Obi?

Obihai allows you to use pretty much any phone you like. I am using a Panasonic cordless phone system with my Obi. It is a system I have had since 2018. Nothing particularly expensive or advanced. You may buy phones from Obi if you prefer. For a full list of products, see Obi’s website.

Can You Fax With an Obi?

Obi does enable you to send faxes. Not all VOIP services have that capability. Some people might be wondering why I am even mentioning faxes. Law is one of the professions where faxing is still common. Mainly because medical offices tend to insist on it. Some government offices too. I have not tried faxing through my Obi. But Amazon and Obi’s own site make it clear faxing is possible.

How Is the Call Quality?

My first call came pretty quickly after I set up the Obi. It was a friend, so I told her about the new setup and asked for her feedback. She said that I sounded clear. I have since asked others and they have told me the same thing. I have no trouble with the sound quality on my end.

I have not experienced any problems, actually, since I set the Obi up in February 2021. As long as my Internet connection is working, my phone seems to be working. I am able to use my computer, stream video, and consume all sorts of bandwidth while I am on the phone. It does not seem to impact the quality of the call.

What About Security?

Security is an interesting issue when it comes to using the Obi. I am using Google Voice, which means that the terms of service of Google Voice will apply. I strongly suggest that you review those terms of service prior to purchasing an Obi and using it with Google Voice to provide your phone connectivity. The same is true if you use a Google Voice number at all. For my purposes, Google Voice is fine. For your purposes, it may or may not be fine. This is something you have to analyze based on your own ethical obligations (if you are a lawyer) as well as your own legal obligations if there are any related to whatever you are discussing. Check out the various disclosures, including the privacy disclosure, before you make your decision.

Is Set Up Difficult?

Theoretically, set up is very easy. If everything works, you connect the device, connect a phone, and then dial a phone number to get the Obi working with your Internet connection. Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t work the way they are supposed to. And the Obi did not work properly for me when I tried to set it up. It seems that there was some problem with the DNS address. I did some research, found a different address I could use (as well as instructions on entering it) and then everything worked just fine. Had I not been able to figure out a solution, I would be writing a very different post about how I returned the Obi, I imagine. But, I had enough knowledge that I could figure out how to find the solution. The answer I found comes from this site. I will summarize it for people who run into the problem and find this post while searching for answers. This process worked for me in February 2021.

Fixing Obi’s Failure to Connect on Initial Setup

This will make sense if you are looking at the Obi’s instructions. It will probably not make sense otherwise.

  1. Dial ***6 and update firmware if available. 

2. Dial ***1 to obtain the IP address of the Obi (it speaks the IPv4 into your ear).

3. This is where my problem arose. The device never connected. Eventually, I was prompted with a login and password on my computer. The username is admin and the password is admin (nice security). I then changed the Obi’s DNS to a public DNS server, 4.2.2.2. I rebooted the device. It worked flawlessly and has continued to do so.

Should You Buy an Obi?

I think if you are looking for a phone solution for your home, and you have a solid and reliable Internet connection, Obi is a great choice. I think for a business phone you have to give it more thought. You have to decide if Obi is capable of providing you with everything you need to meet your needs. Obi is working very well for me. My needs, however, are quite simple.

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