All projects: DIY-IT Project Guide
This project: The Ultimate Google Voice How-to Guide (2014 Edition)
Components of our home office solution
Now that you know the scope of what I was putting together, here's a list of the various elements that made up my "Mark I" home office solution:
- Two iPhones: Denise had her beloved iPhone 4 and I had my much-maligned and barely tolerated iPhone 3G. These served us (and annoyed me) when we're away from the house. Both were on AT&T.
- AT&T MicroCell: When we first bought the new house and realized AT&T's signal was non-existent, we bought the MicroCell so we were able to have some level of service. We paid $20/mo so Denise could have unlimited outgoing calls. I had more than 5,000 minutes banked, so I was just registered as a guest on the MicroCell.
- Two Google Voice numbers: These are the numbers we ported from the old house.
- Broadband Internet: A key component to making this all work is a broadband Internet connection, a cable modem, a router, and a pile of switches. I put GigE into every wall of the house. I have a massive central patch panel in the studio, and network connectivity is distributed house-wide.
- Email accounts: Although we could log into Google Voice to check messages, we both get voicemail and SMS messages via Outlook and the Exchange server we have in the cloud.
- The OBi VoIP box: This was the device that allowed us to connect a RJ11-based phone system to Google Voice and gives inexpensive VOIP services. Sort of.
- The Link-to-Cell phone system: This was the product that pulls it all together and helped us meet our mini-PBX requirements. It's the subject of the rest of this article.
I grew to hate the Link-to-Cell. Hate. It was a royal pain to hook up, my wife was always complaining about it because people we talked to always complained, it was weirdly unreliable system, and its odd way of trying to handle Bluetooth was unwieldy. We used it for a while and I'll explain how, but the day I yanked it out was a happy day, indeed.
It's important to stress here that we were really tied to the idea of old-school phone handsets and a lot of the hurdles I jumped through was attempting to reproduce the landline experience using VoIP and existing RJ-11 phone sets.
If you want to do that, these next three articles are for you. I eventually jumped off that road and went with augmented smartphones and tablets. But that's for a later article.
Configuring the Link-to-Cell
As you might imagine, makers of landline-based phone systems have been taking a bath, as late. With more and more people moving off land lines to cell phones or VoIP solutions, producers of traditional consumer telephony products have had to find new markets and new opportunities.
One such opportunity has been to create phone systems that work both with landlines and with mobile phones. More and more phone systems are adding a Bluetooth integration capability, allowing their handsets to effectively become full-featured Bluetooth headsets for mobile phones.
This is where the Panasonic Link-to-Cell Cellular Convergence Solution, model KX-TG6582 comes into the picture. This gadget, purchased for about $75 from my local Staples, consists of a base unit and two handsets (once we got it working, I ordered another two handsets).
The base unit has one RJ11 land line phone port on it, but can also accept up to two Bluetooth mobile phone connections (although only one can be active at once). This is where things start to get interesting.
If Denise and I both wanted to use this device to talk on the phone at once, and we wanted to do it through our mobile phones, we weren't able to, because only one Bluetooth connection could be in use at once. But, if one of us used Bluetooth and one of us used the landline port, we could both be on handset extensions at the same time.
Ah, now you're beginning to see where the OBi and VoIP come in, aren't you?
When you run a phone cable between the OBi and the Link-to-Cell, the Link-to-Cell is convinced it's connected to a jack in the wall. It has no idea that it's connecting via the OBi to Google Voice, and then, through that, to the outside world.
So that was our Mark I configuration: we had the OBi wired to the Link-to-Cell. We had both iPhones registered with the Link-to-Cell as Bluetooth devices. And we had both iPhones registered with the AT&T MicroCell so we could get something resembling cellular phone service.
Next up: putting it all together, making and receiving calls...