Google Voice: Configuring a complex home office

Google Voice: Configuring a complex home office

Summary: Here's how you can set up a complex home office with two phone line and Google Voice. This is the Mark I attempt at a solution. It works, but we found better options, especially since Google is deprecating the XMPP protocol.


All projects: DIY-IT Project Guide
This project: The Ultimate Google Voice How-to Guide (2014 Edition)

Putting it all together: making calls

Both Denise and I had a Link-to-Cell handset at our desks. If I wanted to make an outgoing work call, I picked up my Link-to-Cell handset, keyed in the number I was calling, and pressed the Talk/Phone button. This initiated a call via the RJ11 jack, out through the OBi, and out through my Google Voice account to the person I was calling. The Caller ID shown was that of my old landline work number

If Denise wanted to make a personal or family call at the same time, she keyed in the number she wanted to call, and instead of hitting the Talk/Phone button, she hit the CELL button. The Link-to-Cell then gave her a choice of dialing out through her mobile phone or mine. Once she chose her phone, the Link-to-Cell initiated a mobile call, which went out through the AT&T MicroCell, and then through our Internet connection.

The only drawback is that calls made through the Link-to-Cell CELL option don't show the Google Voice Caller ID, but instead the Caller ID of the mobile phone. For her, this was fine, since she's generally calling people who were already aware of her mobile number. After awhile, though, it grew very annoying and confusing for her friends, and we eventually resolved it via solutions you'll read about in the following articles.

We also had the option of setting up a second Google Voice account on the OBi. If she wanted to make an outgoing call that displayed the family Caller ID, she could type in a short access code using the Talk/Phone button, and it dialed out via Google Voice rather than via her iPhone.

It shouldn't have to be this way. As with many things, Apple's restrictions got in the way. If we were able to choose which app was used by default by Bluetooth devices to dial outgoing calls, we'd have been able to tell it to use Google Voice to make the call, instead of the iPhone's Phone app. Hopefully, this will change in the future (nah) since I don't think I'll ever be able to pry the iPhone out of her hands in favor of an Android device (I did, she loves her Samsung Galaxy S4 — in fact, moving to Android was her idea).

Putting it all together: receiving calls

The other side of the equation, of course, is receiving calls. In the end, this was the most important part of our entire landline rescue operation. Once again, let's give a quiet nod of thanks to the FCC for making number portability part of our telecommunications strategy. Otherwise, none of this would be possible.

When someone calls the work number, they're routed through Google Voice. This is still how I do it, to this day. But with the Mark I solution, Google Voice then forwarded the number to both my mobile phone and to the OBi box, which then sent the call to the Link-to-Cell, and the Link-to-Cell handset rang — as did my iPhone, unless I've turned my ringer off.

When I wasn't at home, I just picked up the call on my iPhone. When I was at home, either of us could answer using our own Link-to-Cell handset.

This worked quite well, but when we first set the whole system up, there was a complete cacophony whenever a call came in. The Link-to-Cell defaulted to speaking (well, more like yelling) the Caller ID number out loud. It also defaulted to the base unit and each handset ringing at pretty much the same time it yelled out the caller's number.

When a call came in, the iPhone would vibrate and then ring, then the Link-to-Cell base unit and each handset would ring, and at the same time, the base unit and each handset would yell out the number of the incoming call.

It was like a menagerie of twisted tech, screaming for attention. Sheesh!

Fortunately, you can turn those features off, and once I did, the system rang more like something on the good side of sane.

For the family line, a similar process happened. A call to the family line was routed to Google Voice, which forwarded it to Denise' iPhone. If she was home, the call was routed through the MicroCell and then the Link-to-Cell "saw" the incoming call and rang. Either of us could answer by picking up our own Link-to-Cell handset and talking.

If Denise was not home, incoming family calls didn't ring at the house. You can't imagine what a blessing this is for me when I'm on a writing deadline! Instead, the calls just rang Denise on her iPhone, and she could answer and talk from wherever she happened to be.

Final thoughts

This was a very complex solution, and it's not something everyone needs to set up. We've had a well-oiled office and home environment for years and didn't want the new phone operation to spoil that.

What we liked about this new solution is that it gave us a lot of added flexibility, allowing us to get calls no matter where we were, but also using all of the Google Voice features to manage those calls. What we found we didn't like about the solution was that it was just such a pain in the butt over time.

From a cost perspective, our monthly expenses went down. Sure, we both had to maintain insanely pricey AT&T iPhone plans, but had to do that, anyway. Our monthly expenses, though for phone service dropped to about a quarter of what they were before we moved.

In fact, the savings in our phone service costs are pretty much paid for both iPhone plans.

There were still glitches. Phone quality was adequate, but not nearly as good as a pure landline solution. This drives me a bit nuts, but most people out there are so used to "can you hear me now" that the loss in quality doesn't seem to matter much.

We also still have too many phones ringing in the house when a call comes in, because one or both of us tend to forget to turn off our mobile phone ringers.

Because AT&T's cellular service in this part of town can best be described as "drek", we were also almost entirely reliant on our Internet connection for phone service, so if the cable goes out, we were out of luck, telephonically speaking.

Verizon's service here is actually quite good, so once we switched, we gained considerably better communications options. Of course, back in 2011, Verizon didn't have 4G in this neighborhood, so some of this evolution I'm describing is all about the net present solution that was available at the time.

All those items aside, this was a pretty powerful telephony solution, it cost just over $200 to set up (end-to-end) and while it was annoying, it worked.

Next in our series: Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VOIP

By the way, 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

Topics: Google, iPhone, Mobility, Telcos


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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  • RE: Google Voice: configuring a complex home office

    What about Faxing?
    • RE: Google Voice: configuring a complex home office

      @JPH66609 We use a fax service. I think it's Jfax, but don't quote me on that.
      David Gewirtz
    • Fax to Email

      I think a solution like fax to email should also be included in a complex home office as <a title="fax" href="">fax to email</a> has certainly helped me in my home office and it is reasonble in price for those who are just starting a small business. Definitely a telecommunications solution like this pertinent.
  • i use ringcentral and get an 800 number

    I've had service from RingCentral for a couple of years and it all works over my DSL line... I do have a monthly charge but it gives me an 800 number I can provide to customers, and there is an iphone app that I can use to place calls from my iphone that appear to come from the 800 number. They say it's scalable if you want to keep adding lines and extensions for a full office system. I've been pretty happy with it.... but it's not as good as FREE!
    • also provides a nice fax service

      I forgot to mention, it also includes a nice fax service and viewer so you can send faxes from your desktop and even receive and view faxes on your iphone.
  • RE: Google Voice: configuring a complex home office

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