Google Voice: A cheapskate's guide to cheap VoIP

Google Voice: A cheapskate's guide to cheap VoIP

Summary: Here's how you can make and receive Google Voice phone calls from any old wired phone you may have lying around your house. The only problem is that this might not be your best solution. That's coming in a later article.

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Welcome to the 2014 edition of the Ultimate Google Voice How-To Guide, presented by ZDNet's DIY-IT blog. In this article, and the baker's dozen that accompany it, you'll learn just about everything you need to know to get the most out of the Google Voice service. This guide contains a complete end-to-end update of our 2011 Google Voice guide, chock full of new ideas, completely new articles, and amazing tips.

You'll learn how to port your landline to Google Voice, how to set up phone handsets, how to integrate Google Voice into your iPhone and Android experience, how to set up a multi-line office, how to get the most out of using Google Voice and SMS, and even how to use Google Voice effectively and safely in your car, and lots more.

So brew up a cup of coffee or your favorite tea, grab a few snacks, and prepare to discover how plain 'ol phone calls are about to be transformed into something virtually indistinguishable from magic.

This article is a continuation of our Google Voice series. In this article, we'll look at how you can set up a complex home office with two phone lines, have multiple handsets, and enable either person to easily answer either phone line from any handset, all while using Google Voice.

This article assumes you've already got a working Google Voice account and it's linked to your phone. If you don't, please read the earlier articles in this series. We are also aware of the rumors that Google may end-of-life Google Voice or migrate its functionality more fully into Hangouts and, if that happens, we'll update this series with all your best options.

Bits of history. Words of advice*

This article is a continuation of our Google Voice series. In this article, we look at how you can make and receive Google Voice phone calls from any old wired phone you may have lying around your house, including cordless phones.

This article assumes you've already got a working Google Voice account and it's linked to your phone. If you don't, please read the earlier articles in this series.

Understanding the challenge

Let's get this out there right now. Back in 2011, when I first put this "Mark I" solution together, I did not like my iPhone. I had an even-then ancient iPhone 3G, which I was waiting on upgrading until either the iPhone 5 came out or I lost patience writing about Apple and decided to go get an Android phone, so I can spend all day and all night tweaking my launch screen. As it turns out, I did both: I bought an iPhone 4S and then an Android Samsung Galaxy S4.

I didn't like making or getting calls on my iPhone 3G. I was resistant to change, and I liked making and getting calls on my old-school landline phone that I had used for years. It was comfortable, had a great headset that sat properly on my head, with a mic that people could actually hear. It just worked and I liked it.

The challenge, of course, is once I ditched my landlines, my landline phone became a paper weight (and I don't even use much paper anymore).

But what if I could connect my landline phone, complete with its RJ11 jack, straight into Google Voice? What if, when you called my office number, my old landline phone rang, I could pick it up, and talk to you? And what, if I wanted to make a call, I could just pick up that phone, dial a number on it, and reach you? And what, if when I made that call, you see my Google Voice number right there, plain as day, on your Caller ID?

What if? What if, indeed.

Oh, and what if we could do this fer cheap?

A more expensive alternative

This whole "what if" theme revolves around setting up a Voice-over-IP implementation. Basically, using the Internet to transmit phone calls, and then have those calls originate from or arrive at an actual telephone number.

Google Voice will get you part of the way, but you'll need a gadget to come in for a landing. That gadget is called the OBi, and it's about fifty bucks from Amazon. It should be noted that while the Obi is a workable solution for Google Voice now, because Google is discontinuing support of the XMPP protocol in May 2014, the Obi will no longer work with Google Voice after that date. Even so, I'll keep telling the story here so you have a complete picture of the options and our experience making these systems work.

Before I talk about one vowel-based product brand, let's look at another, the Ooma. After hearing a lot of good things about the Ooma, I seriously considered getting it. The company touts that you can make free calls "for life". Unfortunately, those free calls come after you buy a $250 box, and if you want to use it with Google Voice, you need to add their $10/mo premium service.

(Ooma was eventually kind enough to provide me with a review unit, and I discuss that in the next article in this series, Taking Google Voice to the extreme with Ooma)

So, being cheap, I looked for an alternative solution. Don't get me wrong, the Ooma looked like a great device. But since most of what it does is provided by Google Voice (in many ways, with a better implementation), I decided initially to skip the Ooma. If you don't use Google Voice and want a good VoIP solution, the Ooma might be right for yooma.

But why spend $250 plus $10/month, when you can spend less than $50, just once? Well, there are reasons, but it took a while to figure them out.

Help me, OBi110, phone me

Sigh. I couldn't help myself. I'll just apologize in advance for that headline and let's just move on.

The OBi, from a company called Obihai, is a tiny box a little smaller than a 4-port Ethernet switch. It came in two variants when I used it back in 2011, the OBi100 (for $39.99) and the OBi110 (for $49.99). They've since added the Obi200 and the Obi202 (moving up to $59.99 and $69.99, respectively). The company was nice enough to send me an Obi202 to look at, but I used the Obi110 for my phone solution for about a year.

The OBi is a general purpose VoIP box that sits between your network and your RJ11-based landline phone. You run a network cable from your router or network switch to the network port in the OBi and a phone cable from your old phone to the phone port in the OBi, and you're essentially set.

For the record, the higher-priced OBi110 has a second phone port. This is actually pretty cool. What it does is link the OBi to a local landline phone system and is designed for international calling. Let's say you're in Europe, but you live in New Jersey. Sitting in your Paris hotel room, you connect to your OBi using an OBi cloud account, and then the OBi sitting in your basement in New Jersey connects to the local phone line, and calls out from there.

Another application of this hack is tech support. Let's say you get a call returned from a tech support person that you know has to be in India, but the Caller ID says she's calling from Indiana. She could be using the OBi. She connects over the Internet to an OBi located in Indiana, and that OBi calls you over the landline.

It's a heck of a feature, if specialized, for a mere extra ten bucks.

Next up: using the Obi with Google Voice...

I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Unified Comms, Apps, Google, Mobility, Telcos

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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Talkback

66 comments
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  • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

    David, what a great series! I was looking for this information on and off over the past couple of years, and nothing was pulled together as well or completely.
    WmTConqror
    • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

      Can the GoPhone still be used as a portable (old home phone number) after the transition to GV? Understood there would be a fee or usage charge. Also, could the Obi device be used with the fax machine?
      AK_Dragonfly
  • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

    as a true cheapskate what I want is a way to use my google voice number to make internet calls over my cell phone and not use up my minutes. I'm happy with the magic jack at $20 a year and it easily travels with me wherever I go.
    REDPINXC
    • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

      @REDPINXC

      If you have an android phone...

      Go into either Amazon app store or the Android Market Place. Purchase Groove IP, amazon has it on sale for 1.99, andorid market has it for about 4.99. Android Market does get updates faster but either way works.

      Log into your google voice account with your google voice number. Now, you can place calls using Groove IP without having a monthly fee. Groove IP uses cellular or wifi signal to make the calls, so it doesn't waste your minutes.

      Bonus: If you are a sprint customer, you can have it all on one line. It's pretty slick, considering that when I am in areas of no cell signal (basement) I still receive/take phone calls on my phone via wifi. The app runs in the background, so you're always ready to take the call. I've had it setup for about a week without any issues. The app even has settings to fix/tweak the audio settings.
      backwerds
      • Google is discontinuing protocol for Groove IP as of May 15, 2014

        From what I have read that Google is no longer going to allow 3rd party devices to use their services starting May 15,2014 they are not supporting the protocol that Groove IP uses and OBi110. Along with other hardware devices and software use.. :(
        rob781
    • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

      @REDPINXC If you have an iPhone check out Talkatone. It accesses Google Voice without using cell minutes.
      APH3
    • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

      @REDPINXC

      I just upgraded to Magic Jack +. It's $30 a year instead of $20, but the device no longer needs to be plugged into a computer to work. Not having to worry about a Microsoft update temporarilty killing my landline is well worth the additional $10.00 per year!
      dsf3g
      • SHILL!

        I know this comment above is from a Magic Jack Shill because Magic Jack DOES NOT cost "$20 per year." It costs $20 just to port your number over. Then when you find out it doesn't work and have to spend 2+ hours with a script-reading non-tech Indian, you have to spend $30 JUST TO GET YOUR NUMBER BACK! Complete scam that does not work. Don't believe me? Go to Amazon and see the HORRIBLE REVIEWS!
        NickyCee
    • This comment is from a SHILL!

      I know this comment above is from a Magic Jack Shill because Magic Jack DOES NOT cost "$20 per year." It costs $20 just to port your number over. Then when you find out it doesn't work and have to spend 2+ hours with a script-reading non-tech Indian, you have to spend $30 JUST TO GET YOUR NUMBER BACK! Complete scam that does not work. Don't believe me? Go to Amazon and see the HORRIBLE REVIEWS!
      NickyCee
    • I HAVE 3 GOOGLE VOICE NUMBERS...

      RIGHT KNOW I`M IN BRAZIL AND I USE THE FREE ANDROID SMARTPHONE APP: GROOVE IP LITE,
      I CAN MAKE ANY CALLS TO THE US,CANADA AND IF ADD CREDITS I CAN CALL ANY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.SO IF YOU GOT A INTERNET CONNECTION,3G OR WIFI OR A COMPUTER WITH A INTERNET CONNECTION YOU CAN MAKE AND RECEIVE CALL AND SMS TO ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD FOR FREE.IF YOU USE A ANDROID SMARTPHONE OR TABLETE YOU CAN INSTALL THE FREE APP.NO IF HAVE A LAPTOP OR A COMPUTER YOU JUST HAVE TO LOG IN TO GMAIL AND INSTALL THE GOOGLE VOICE PLUG IN.IT WORKS IN ANY BROWSER,IN WINDOWS,MAC,LINUX.
      AND THE CALL QUALITY IS CRISTAL CLEAR.
      BrazilMan2014gv
      • I CAN MAKE AND RECEIVE CALLS

        AND YOU CAN HAVE IT RING IN MULTIPLES DEVICES IN THE SAME TIME.JUST LIKE SKYPE.
        BrazilMan2014gv
      • Dude, what's with the caps lock

        You post all over these forums with your caps lock on. STOP SCREAMING AT US!!!!
        Rann Xeroxx
        • what's the problem?????

          as if speaking to someone and they start shouting, walk away. If you are alergic to caps, look away and don't look back
          Charles_B
  • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

    Know what? I just switched to Anveo last month from CallCentric as Anveo has support for sending/receiving SMS, but that's 4.4 cents to send/receive in the US and I did not look at the rates before I port my phone number, which costs me non-refundable $30 to do so. Better luck next time, but then Google Voice is not a VoIP provider, right? I have my phone number registered in e164.org (ENUM) and it dials my SIP URI, which connects to my Asterisk server and it dials my VoIP phone. ENUM is nice, considering that if someone's VoIP provider supports ENUM look-up (e164.org) and their VoIP phone supports HD Voice (G722) as mine does (Yealink SIP-T22P through Asterisk), the plain old telephone network can be bypassed.<br><br>For those who are wondering on what's so great about HD Voice (or G722, for that matter), find a hardware phone that supports HD Voice (or similar naming) or use Ekiga for Windows/Linux which supports G722 and dial this:<br><br>sip:wbdemo@conf.zipdx.com<br><br>Press the # key to switch to wideband.<br><br>Bear in mind that I doubt the plain old standard telephone supports high definition sound with a frequency response of 50Hz to 7kHz.<br><br>Oh, if you have just plain Asterisk, put this in your extensions.conf in /etc/asterisk/. That goes in your internal context:<br><br><code>exten => 47223366,1,dial(SIP/wbdemo@conf.zipdx.com)</code>
    Grayson Peddie
    • IF ARE IN THE US...

      JUST SIGN UP TO FREE GOOGLE VOICE SERVICE.GET A NUMBER ANYWHERE IN THE US.
      THEN LOAD THE FREE SMART PHONE APP: GROOVE IP LITE,THEN ENTER YOUR GMAIL ACCOUNT AND PASSWORD.THEM YOU FIXED NUMBER GO EVERYWHERE.MAKE,RECEIVE PHONE CALLS AND SMS.
      BrazilMan2014gv
  • Ooma with GV is free, not $10/mo

    Sure you can login to ooma & pay for services, but Google Voice works free simply by pointing it at the OOMA number.
    flapinux
    • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

      @flapinux But can you then pick up your handset and dial out via Google Voice without paying?
      Force
      • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

        @Force

        If you have an android phone...

        Go into either Amazon app store or the Android Market Place. Purchase Groove IP, amazon has it on sale for 1.99, andorid market has it for about 4.99. Android Market does get updates faster but either way works.

        Log into your google voice account with your google voice number. Now, you can place calls using Groove IP without having a monthly fee. Groove IP uses cellular or wifi signal to make the calls, so it doesn't waste your minutes.

        Bonus: If you are a sprint customer, you can have it all on one line. It's pretty slick, considering that when I am in areas of no cell signal (basement) I still receive/take phone calls on my phone via wifi. The app runs in the background, so you're always ready to take the call. I've had it setup for about a week without any issues. The app even has settings to fix/tweak the audio settings.
        backwerds
  • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

    Having recently acquired and implemented an OBI110 on Google Voice, I think it's worth mentioning that it also supports other VOIP services. I use voip.ms as a second service and although it's usage based the cost is quite reasonable and they offer number porting and other services that Google Voice doesn't. Google Voice is my primary connection because I can make free calls to the USA and Canada (at least through 2011) but I can access my voip.ms service as a backup simply by dialing **2 in front of my number. The OBI110 is truly a slick device and the OBI100 is a mouse sized version without the RJ11 jack for a PSTN connection which would be great for traveling.

    Thanks for your articles. I already finished my setup but I'm sure lots of people will benefit from this information.
    rstucke
  • RE: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

    Gee I made it even more simple!1 I just use the Call Phone feature in Gmail. I can all over the USA and Canada. I can talk as long as I want for FREE. Plus I found out the folks in Austrialia can also call the USA for FREE. KISS...as they say..Keep It Simple Sam..or put whatever word you want to replace the last word.
    antiqham1