David Chandler's Journal of Java Web and Mobile Development

  • David M. Chandler

    Web app developer since 1994 and Google Cloud Platform Instructor now residing in Colorado. Besides tech, I enjoy landscape photography and share my work at ColoradoPhoto.gallery.

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  • Sleepless Nights…

    March 2011
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Ditch your land line with Google Voice and the OBI110

Posted by David Chandler on March 12, 2011

In tonight’s “Saturday evening post” you’ll learn why I’m one step closer to ditching our home phone number. For the last several months I’ve been making long distance calls with Gmail calling (ever tried that “Call phone” link in the Gchat sidebar?) It was especially valuable during my recent speaking trip to Sweden as I could use the hotel wireless to call home for free. For these calls, I tethered myself to my laptop using my cell phone earbuds plus this handy adapter to split the 3.5mm earbud plug into separate mic / speaker plugs for my notebook. I’ve also used a USB headset, but the earbuds and adapter roll into a tiny ball I can more easily stuff into a backpack and the sound quality is just as good.

Personally, I love Gmail calling as a phone interface. Being a keyboard shortcuts freak, I simply press “g,p” in Gmail and start typing someone’s name. Their phone numbers appear, I arrow down, press enter, and Gmail dials. Very cool. And of course, thanks to Android, I see the same contacts whether in Gmail or on my cell phone. However, the other people in my house don’t necessarily want to turn on and plug into a computer just to make a phone call.

Enter the OBI110, a VOIP adapter that lets you use your plain old telephone with Gmail calling and optionally, Google Voice for inbound calls. Mine arrived last week and I finally got around to setting it up this afternoon. The steps are simple (though NOT particularly clear in the instruction booklet). After you plug in all the cords and turn it on,

  1. Sign up for an account at obitalk.com. It’s free.
  2. Add your OBI110 device to your control panel (click Add Device in the left nav).
  3. Click Tips, Tricks in the left nav and then click Google Voice Configuration Wizard. Put in your Gmail account info using your full username@gmail.com and away you go…

The OBI110 lets you plug in your existing land line as well as the Ethernet connection to your router, and you can configure it to use Gmail calling for all calls, or only when you dial “**1” first. This way, you can continue to make local calls on your land line and use Gmail calling only for free long distance.

Note: instead of step 3 above, you can also click on the OBI110 device in the dashboard at obitalk.com and click the Google Voice setup button; however, when I tried it this way, it always made my Google Voice # the primary number, even if I unchecked that box in the setup, so I couldn’t make local calls on my land line.

For advanced configuration, you can login to the OBI110 router using your browser by going to its IP address. When you add the device to your account at obitalk.com, it creates an admin password which you can view on the dashboard. This password replaces the default admin/admin and you must enter username admin and this new password in order to connect to the OBI110 with your browser. If you get in trouble, you can always reset to factory defaults using a paper clip in the tiny hole in the back of the device or by logging in to the OBI110 and selecting System Management | Device Update | Reset.

So far, I’ve only made a few test calls to verify that inbound and outbound calls are routed as expected.  If I dial a number directly, it goes through my land line according to caller ID, and if I dial **1 first, it shows up as my Google Voice #. There seems to be a delay of one or two rings before inbound calls on the land line make it through the device to reach my cordless base system.

With the OBI110, you no longer need a computer to use Gmail calling nor a land line to receive calls at your Google Voice # on a corded or cordless telephone. Google has said Gmail calling will remain free at least through 2011, so if you call numbers in the US or Canada, you can make everyone in your house happy with free long distance on your familiar home telephone system.

In case you’re wondering, the event that got this ball rolling was that I got a corporate cell phone (Android, of course), which allowed me to cancel our AT&T family talk plan that we used mainly for free long distance on nights and weekends. We now have much cheaper pre-paid cell phones, free texting through Google Voice numbers, and free long distance at home with Gmail calling. We’ve pretty well drunk the Google Kool-Aid 🙂

6 Responses to “Ditch your land line with Google Voice and the OBI110”

  1. Ari said

    Hi David,

    I liked the article. I am thinking of buying the OBI110 myself. One question though: Are you using this setup without any sip provider (i.e. Gizmo5 or Sipgate)? I wanted to route all my Google Voice calls through my land line (in order to receive the VoIP lag) but didn’t want to pay for the outgoing calls. Is this what you accomplished? If so, what was the setup exactly that you had to do?

    • Correct, I’m using only Google Voice. After several weeks of use, I’m not quite as enthusiastic about the Obi110. It’s good for free outbound long distance calls but the volume is not very loud compared to a direct land line connection from the same phone. Also there is quite a lag (2-4 seconds) when connecting both inbound and outbound calls, even using the land line. The other phones on the land line will ring twice before the Obi110-connected phone rings, and outbound calls on the land line likewise are silent for several seconds before they ring. I’ve seen there is a new model, Obi100. Perhaps it corrects some of these issues. Google Voice, however, has been trouble-free, and the quality of outbound calls using a PC headset to call a land line has been fantastic.

  2. Eric West said

    Dear David,

    In our family, we have decided to keep a land line for a while longer. Our parents are pretty advanced in age and really only trust the traditional ways. However, I would like to have a device that will accept an incoming call from a traditional land line and then forward it over the internet using my Google Voice account or some other internet-based service. Alternatively, if I could use the voice mail service from Google Voice to take a message from the incoming call, that would help a lot too. Do you have any recommendations?

    Thank you.


    • Sure, Google Voice will do both. Your folks can call your GV# from a land line and leave a message or you can take the call in the Google Talk plugin, on the OBI 110, a cell phone, etc.

  3. David Stein said

    I converted an expired magicJack dongle I had sitting in a drawer over to Google Voice using the GVJACK application at http://www.pcphonesoft.com a couple of weeks ago.

    The only thing I had to do after I installed the program was log into my Gmail account to start making calls.

    Now my phone service is completely free and am pretty pleased with it. It actually has more features than my old landline service.

  4. Alex said

    Great article. I have a scenario to run by you if you’d care to share your thoughts. I got an Ooma phone about 2 years ago — this is supposed to be a ‘free landline for life’. I ended up using my Ooma number as the basis for getting a GV account, and since then I have not used the physical Ooma device at all… just GV, Skype (I set up Skype to show my GV number in people’s call display when I call them), and a few handy apps on my iPhone make incoming calls work too, using “GMail” as the “number” to forward the call to.

    Recently Ooma announced a massive price hike. The “free for life” ride is over – they are now charging about $5 per month, $4 of which is their own fees disguised cleverly to make them look like taxes. Oh well.

    Obviously $5/month isn’t that big a deal but I am asking myself — do I actually need this? Will GV continue to work (including by showing my GV number on people’s call display when I call them) if I get rid of the underlying physical phone number?

    I tried searching on Google’s help pages but found no obvious answer. I’d appreciate your thoughts!

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