Just when I thought I’d gotten a handle on the best deal in VOIP offerings, along comes Obihai with the OBI 100 VOIP telephone adapter. In conjunction with a Google Voice account, they claim unlimited calling to POTS users in the USA. Frankly, I didn’t believe it, so I received one of their devices and have been using for about two weeks. What I discovered surprised me.
Firstly, it’s important to understand what the Obi is not. It is NOT a VOIP service. That you’ll have to get for yourself. What it is, is an ATA (analog telephone adapter) on steroids. The ATA allows you to connect an analog telephone to a Digital telephone system such as VOIP.
- Works with Google Voice for FREE calls to the USA and Canada to 2012
- VoIP ATA and Gateway Supports Analog Line, GV and SIP Services; Callcentric, Sipgate, Vitelity, Voip.ms, etc.
- Make free calls on the OBiTALK Network – Connect to other OBi Devices or use the free OBiON for iPhone application or OBiAPP for your PC.
- Connect to other OBi Voice Service Bridges or use the free OBiON for iPhone application or OBiAPP for your PC.
- Download Apps for PC, Speed Dial Up to 99 OBi Endpoints or Phone Numbers.
- Call Forward, Caller ID, Name and Number, Anonymous Caller Blocking, Message Waiting Indication – Visual and Tone Based
- Make free calls on the OBiTALK Network – Connect to other OBi Voice Service Bridges or use the free OBiON for iPhone application or OBiAPP for your PC.
- OBiTALK Portal Features: Manage Your OBi, Connect to Your Friends’ OBi Devices, Add Services, Download Apps for PC, Speed Dial Up to 99 OBi Endpoints or Phone Numbers
- Some of the OBi100 Calling Features: Call Forward, Caller ID ? Name and Number, Anonymous Caller Blocking, Message Waiting Indication – Visual and Tone Based
The Obi arrived in a plain white box which contained 4 items above.
There are only 3 connections to be made. The quick start guide lists the following steps:
- Connect an analog phone to the PHONE port
- Connect the supplied Ethernet cable to the Internet port and the other end to an Ethernet port on your router or switch
- Connect the 12 volt power adapter to the Obi and then a power outlet.
When the power is connected the lights on the OBi flashed for several seconds. After the Obi power light stayed solid green, I was ready to make a call using the Obi network.
Calling via the Obi network is limited in that you can only place calls to other Obi users. You do this by dialing **9 followed by a nine digit Obi number found on the bottom of each Obi device. Unfortunately, I didn’t know anyone else with an Obi, so I dialed the Obi test number which echoed what I said. The sound was clear. I could also call an Obi number which connected to an automated attendant. From there I can make a 3 minute call to any number in the US. While this was interesting, the real usefulness of the product became apparent after I registered at the ObiTalk Web Site.
Here’s where the Obi shines. The web site is a cloud based configuration application that remotely provisions your Obi. From the ObiTalk dashboard page you can configure VOIP services, speed dial numbers, trusted caller IDs and Circles of Trust. The trusted caller ID’s and Circles of Trust allow others to access your Obi and call out on your connected services.
After you configure the Obi device, you can then add up to 2 service providers which can be a combination of Google Voice and SIP accounts. This will allow you to call PSTN numbers and receive calls on the phone connected to the Obi box. The folks at Obihai have made it very simple to configure Google Voice as a service. There are also configuration pages that make it easy to add VOIP companies that offer BYOD (bring your own device) plans who provide credentials. On the Obihai web site you’ll find several informative videos that explain in more detail the features and functions of the Obi box.
I began my education into the Obi by configuring it to use my Google Voice account as the primary service. Unfortunately, my house phone VOIP provider has a proprietary ATA device, so they do not provide provisioning credentials, so I couldn’t add it to the Obi. As I mentioned, it is easy to set up and I could have stopped there, but I wanted to explore all the features. For many people making Google Voice act like a POTS service, with free calls to the US and Canada, would be worth the price of the Obi. I found the voice quality excellent and the bridging of the Obi device to be transparent. The user experience is no different from what most people are used to.
In addition to the device, there are a couple of apps that allow you to call via the Obi. I used the iPod app and was able to make calls to the PSTN, however, calls from the PSTN cannot be received by the app. There is also a PC app, that in conjunction with a soft phone (I used x-lite) accesses the Obi to bridge calls to the services configured in the device. If that wasn’t enough, Gmail Chat can access the Obi attendant which allows you to make calls.
The Obi attendant can be accessed by people you allow through the Circle of Trust or Trusted callers. If the Obi recognizes either the CID, name or Obi number of the incoming call, the attendant vocalizes 3 options to route the call. They are, put the call through to the telephone attached to the Obi; route the call to another number as input by the user; or give a callback to a number input by the user. Here are some examples of someone calling my Google Voice number:
- A trusted caller wishes to speak with me. He would input 1 to ring my phone.
- A trusted caller (friend) in Singapore calls my Obi from her Obi and then inputs 2 and a telephone number in the US. The Obi routes the call and saves my friend some money.
- A trusted caller (me) at his summer home where the local Podunk phone company charges a fortune for regional calls, inputs 3 and puts his phone number in for a callback. He hangs up and 2 seconds later the Obi calls him and he can then use the attendant to place calls from he Obi.
In the the 3rd example, there is a way to set the Obi up so that you can call and let it ring twice, hangup and then it will call back the CID of your phone. Using the Obi expert the device can be setup to do this. I’m working on it now. Anyone else calling my Google Voice number will ring the phone attached to the Obi.
The Obi device is a complicated piece of hardware and firmware that’s been made accessible to most people, but at the same time it should satisfy the telephony geek with its Obi Expert Configuration. The ObiTalk web site takes the mystery out of configuring VOIP services and gives users the flexibility to choose the most cost-effective routing for their call. If you have a broadband Internet connection and you’ve been considering VOIP, you should consider the Obi. All users have the ability to return the product (for any reason) to Amazon within 30-days of receipt and receive a 100% refund + no return shipping charges, so what do you have to lose?