How to get cheap home phone service with OBi -- and without Google

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Attention, OBi owners: The free ride is coming to an end.

Damn.

Let me back up for a minute: Over the past few years, lots of us have been using an inexpensive little device called OBi to tap into Google's network and get free, no-strings-attached home phone service. It was a brilliant little hack that served us well.

In a couple of weeks, the plug's getting pulled.

Google announced last fall that it was cutting off third-party access to its XMPP network -- the system that enables the free voice calling. So as of May 15, the dial tone will go dead.

Hang on, though: There's still hope. You may not be able to get absolutely free home phone service through your OBi box anymore, but you can still get simple and cheap service that's very similar to what we had before. All you've gotta do is sign up with an alternate VoIP provider before the May 15th cutoff arrives.

I made the transition with my own OBi box earlier this week. Here's a hands-on guide to what's involved and what sorts of decisions you'll face.

[UPDATE: Things have changed -- yet again. For more up-to-date info on this subject, see my more recent article: How to get free home phone service from Google]

1. Go to the OBiTalk portal.

Head over to obitalk.com and sign into your account, then click the "Approved Service Providers" link on the left side of the screen. There, you'll see a list of VoIP providers that have partnered up with OBi to offer special rates for us Google Voice refugees.

2. Decide which provider and plan you want.

As of now, two companies are offering up special rates for OBi Google Voice users: Anveo and Phone Power. There are plenty of other companies from which you can get service (OBi even has a list of compatible options), but the special GV rates are unusually low and pretty tough to beat. Even if you look at Anveo's and Phone Power's regular rates outside of the OBi portal, you'll see that they're significantly higher than what's being offered here.

I went with Phone Power for a few reasons: First, the rates are just cheaper than Anveo's -- $35 or $60 a year, depending on what you want -- and they give you more bang for the buck. Second, Phone Power includes free and unlimited 24/7 support while Anveo offers only 60 days of free support. And third, Phone Power has explicitly promised that the discounted rate you're getting now will stay in place in the future -- no shifty increases or "promotional plan expired" surprises when you go to renew in 12 months. I haven't seen Anveo make any sort of similar guarantee.

In the short time I've been using Phone Power, it's been great: same excellent quality and reliable service as what I had via Google before. It's been a seamless transition, and anyone who didn't know better would just assume nothing had changed (or that I just had a regular old-fashioned landline).

Both companies, it's worth noting, include e911 service -- which Google Voice did not.

3. Follow the steps to add the plan you pick into your OBi device.

It's all pretty straight-forward: Once you've decided on a plan, you'll select your OBi device from a drop-down list at the bottom of the provider's page, then select the Service Provider Slot you want to use (in most cases, you'll probably want to select SP1 and have it replace your existing Google Voice service). Then just click through the pages to put in all the relevant info and get your service started.

Once you're finished, your OBi should be automatically configured for your new service.

4. Think about your phone number situation.

One thing to consider is how you'll handle the phone number situation with your new provider. During the setup, the provider will prompt you to pick a new phone number to use with your OBi device. You can port in an existing number later if you want -- by contacting the provider's customer service and paying a small fee -- but honestly, it's far simpler just to keep the random number they give you and then use Google Voice in conjunction with it.

With Phone Power, there's an option during the setup to provide an outbound caller ID number. (I'm told Anveo offers a similar option, though I haven't seen firsthand how it's presented.) Assuming you want calls from your home phone to show up as coming from your Google Voice number, make sure you put your GV number into that field. Some folks have reported that it's challenging to change this setting later, so take your time and get it right during the initial setup.

Note, too, that whatever name you enter in with your customer info is the name that'll show up in your caller ID for all outgoing calls. You do have an option to make all outgoing calls anonymous, but if you want anything to show up when you call someone, your name and number is what it'll be -- so think carefully about what name you use.

5. Tweak your Google Voice settings.

So you got a new random number and want to continue using Google Voice -- all you've gotta do now is head into the settings section of the Google Voice Web interface and add your new number into the list. Once it's added, make sure it has a check mark next to it so that it'll ring with all incoming calls.

After that's done, your new VoIP-provided number is essentially invisible; anyone you call will see your Google Voice digits, and anytime someone dials your GV number, it'll ring your home phone.

6. Adjust the voicemail settings with your new provider.

One last thing to do, assuming you want to continue using Google Voice for your voicemail: Sign into your new VoIP provider's website and look for its voicemail settings. (With Phone Power, you'll go to phonepower.com, log in as a home phone user, then click on the "Call Forwarding" link in the dashboard.)

There, what you'll want to do is increase the time before the provider's voicemail picks up -- to the longest amount of time it'll allow -- so that the provider's voicemail won't grab any unanswered calls before your Google Voice voicemail jumps in.

A few final things to consider

• Note that it may take a few minutes for your new number to kick in and become active after you've finished the setup. If things aren't working for you, try waiting five minutes and then checking again.

• During my setup, I ran into a weird issue where my OBi box went offline and had to be reconnected. This doesn't seem to happen to everyone, but if it happens to you, just go to the OBiTalk portal and look for any errors that show up alongside your device info -- then follow the prompts to resolve them. It's a fairly painless procedure, and OBi walks you through anything that needs to be done.

• I also discovered that my new VoIP service wasn't set to handle outgoing calls by default, for some reason. If you aren't able to place a call once everything's configured, you might check if this is happening to you: Head into the dashboard in the OBiTalk portal, click on SP1, and make sure "Primary Line For Outgoing Calls" is checked.

• Last but not least, if you're using any location-aware call forwarding from your Android phone, make sure you adjust the settings on your device -- in Tasker or whatever app you're using -- to have it ring your new VoIP number instead of Google Chat. (If that all sounds like Greek to you, don't worry about it; you probably don't have anything like that set up.)

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It seems like a lot to wrap your head around, I realize, but it's far simpler than it appears -- and once you go through the initial configuration, you'll be set with cheap and hassle-free home service from there on out.

Just be sure you take care of it before May 15th.

SEE ALSO: How to make free VoIP calls on Android -- without Google

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