Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Adventures of the Cheap Geek

For starters, I'm a cheap bastard. Dunno if it's just upbringing or whether it's in my genes (since my family's more than half Scotish on both sides of the family and Scots are known for their thriftiness). I've also got geeky tendencies (I'm in IT, so that sorta follows, I suppose).

Having been a road-warrior for five years, I almost exclusively used my cell phone for my calling needs. For starters, I was gone five days out of seven, most weeks, and it just got to be habitual to use the cell phone, even when I was home. I was gonna straight up ditch the land line, but Donna wasn't comfortable with that notion (even though she almost exclusively used her cell for voice communications).

At any rate, after yet another price increase in my Verizon land-line service, I started to investigate other solutions. I'd finally switched off of DSL and moved to Cox's high-speed internet solution. Other than phone service, switching to cable internet utterly removed my need for a POTS line. Technically, I coulda gone VOIP when I still had ADSL, but, Verizon's "dry line" pricing for xDSL was, to say the least, "regressive". Freed of any compelling need for a land-line, I opted to cut the cord and go down the VOIP path.

Vonage was doing some kind of promotion, at the time, where the equipment and first two months of service were free on a 12 month commitment. So, I signed up. Things were ok for a couple of years. I even got my folks on Vonage because, they too, were tired of the continually increasing expense of POTS, even for the most basic of plans.

Still, I found myself just NEVER using my Vonage line. I did some research on options and discovered that, if I threatened to leave, I could get them to reduce my rates to about $10/month. So, I did that. Unfortunately, just like with POTS, miscellaneous "fees" started showing up. Still, it was cheaper than POTS.

In recent years, I'd started using Google Voice. So, even when using the Vonage line to make calls, I wasn't actually using any outbound minutes. I was going to see if I could get switched to a "no minutes" plan. At one point, Vonage used to offer such a plan, but had discontinued it in recent years. What's a cheap bastard like me to do?

Well, it turns out, that there's a company, ObiHai Technology, that makes a cheap and easy to setup VOIP TA. Even better, they occasionally team up with Amazon to run specials on the device, making an already cheap and easy solution even cheaper. I opted to buy an OBi100 during one of these promotions.

The nifty thing with the OBi100 and OBi110 (and, now, the OBi202!) is that they're configured to make leveraging your Google Voice account dead-easy. Basically, you plug the device into your home's IP network and let it sync up, go to the ObiTalk web page, create your account and follow the steps to locate and register your device. Then you go to your device's service configuration menu, plug in your Google Voice account information and you're able to make free outbound calls.

Unfortunately, Google Voice doesn't allow you to directly setup direct-to-SIP dialing (maybe that will change over time). That means, that, without some additional steps, the home line becomes and "outgoing only" type of thing. In and of itself, that's not awful - given that the only calls I seem to recevie on the home line seem to  be telemarketing. However, it means that using GV as a "follow me" number is negatively impacted.

That said, there is a way around that problem. It requires setting up two other services: 1) a free SIP provider (I chose CallCentric - since if keeping my Verizon/Vonage number is a priority, I can get it ported for a fee); and 2) use a free DID provider like IPKALL to provide a bridge from Google Voice to the SIP provider. I followed the steps at Acrobits to set it all up. Basically (in case that link ever dies):

  1. Open an account with the free SIP-service provider of your choice
  2. Configure that account into your OBi device
  3. Set up an IPKall account to get a free DID - if using CallCentric:
    1. Choose your account type: SIP
    2. Choose Area Code for your IPKall Number: your choice
    3. SIP username: callcentric number, starts with 1777
    4. Hostname or IP address:
    5. Email Address: any valid email address Password: Google Voice Email
  4. Set up Google voice to forward calls to that DID

Couple notes:

  1. Supposedly, Google is only continuing free calling through the end of 2012. However, they've previously announced they'd be discontinuing free calling but changed their minds before the prior deadlines. So, "who knows".
  2. I've also heard that CallCentric has some stability issues. There's other free SIP providers out there: a quick Google search will show you your options.

Thus far, works like a champ. The OBi devices also come with dialers for iPhone and Android that allow you use your data plan for your calls rather than using minutes. You just connect your smart-phone's OBi-dialer to your account and it leverages your OBi device as a call forwarding bridgehead.

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