How to get free home phone service from Google

Free? Check. Convenient? Check. This little-known service is waiting to supplement your smartphone -- if you know how to take advantage of it.

Google Free Home Phone Service

We've been talking a lot lately about how Project Fi can save you money, but your Android phone isn't the only place where Google's offerings can make an impact.

You'll almost never see it promoted -- and hardly anyone outside of hardcore tech enthusiasts knows it even exists -- but Google has a free home phone service just waiting to be utilized. And all you need is a simple little box to tap into its power.

If you're under the age of 20 and don't know what "home phone" means, allow me to enlighten you: It's a crazy kind of apparatus that sits in your house and lets you make and receive voice calls. Kind of like what you see people using in absurdly old movies from, like, the early 2000s (ew!).

So why would you want to bother having one in this day and age? Believe it or not, there are plenty of valid reasons. You might want a simple and dedicated "business line" to use from a home office, for instance, or you might want a quick and easy way for your kids and/or reptiles to make calls without tying up your personal cell phone. (You'd be surprised how chatty turtles can get around mating season.)

You might want a reliable way for anyone in your household to call 911 and instantly relay your house's location in an emergency; you might enjoy having a way to make and receive (or, ahem, ignore) calls without eating up your phone's battery or consuming your monthly mobile minute allotment; or you might just prefer the warmer-sounding connection or more comfy-against-your-face quality a non-cellular handset can provide.

Plain and simple, having a home phone can be a nice convenience -- something that makes life just a little bit easier. And if said service is free to use, why the hell not?

Here's what you need to get started:

1. An adapter box from OBi

A company called OBi (the "B" is capitalized but the "i" is lowercase so you know it's cool) makes an unassuming little contraption that makes this all possible. It's something we've covered before, way back in the early 2010s (ew!), but a lot has changed since then -- and a lot of people still ask me about this -- so I thought it'd be worth revisiting with the most up-to-date info.

In a nutshell, an OBi box taps into Google's free Google Voice calling service and makes it work through a regular ol' landline-style home phone -- the kind you can buy for 10 bucks and up from pretty much anywhere that sells electronic-type stuff. You plug the box into an electrical outlet, plug the phone into the box, and bingo-bango: You've got a functioning home phone, sans the monthly bill.

OBi200 Google Voice

My own personal OBi box, hard at work in my humble home office. Ain't she purty?

The cheapest OBi box, the OBi200, is currently available on Amazon or Newegg for about 50 bucks and should be more than sufficient for most people.

2. An active Google Voice account/phone number

Remember Google Voice? It's that phone number management service Google made a big deal about some years back and then kind of set aside. It still works, though -- and it's the backbone of this home phone setup.

If you already have a Google Voice phone number connected to your Google account, you're all set. If you don't, head to the Google Voice website and set one up. It'll only take a few minutes, and it's completely free to do.

3. A landline-style home phone

Aka that retro pluggy-in-handset thingamabob we were talking about a second ago. Any kind will do -- cordless, corded, corgi-shaped -- so long as it connects to a cable that looks roughly like this at its end:

Google OBi Landline Service

Wire, wire, on the wall. Whom, oh whom, should I call?

Got it all? Good. Now just plug everything in and follow the instructions on the OBi box to get your Google account connected. Once you're done, the phone will function just like a regular home phone, both for making and receiving calls; if someone didn't know you had the OBi box tucked away in a dusty corner, they'd never realize it wasn't an actual paid landline from the likes of AT&T.

A few final notes and asterisks worth mentioning:

  • It's entirely possible and actually quite easy to connect multiple Google Voice phone numbers to the same phone with this setup -- if, say, you want to be able to make and receive calls from your own Google Voice number along with a secondary Google Voice number (like one you secured for your offspring to use). The OBi box supports up to four different numbers, in fact; just sign into the OBiTalk Dashboard to mess with your box's configuration and add whatever you want.
  • Your landline phone has to be physically connected to the OBi box in order to work, but there's a simple way around that restriction: In my house, I have a multihandset cordless phone base hooked up to our OBi. It has several "extension" handsets that work elsewhere in the house, just like they would with a regular landline. Since they're made to work off the main base, they only have to plug into a regular power outlet, and they're good to go. You can find multihandset phones like that at most office stores or electronics retailers; I just did a quick search and found options starting at around $30.
  • If you also use Google Voice on your Android phone, you can have the same number work with both that mobile device and your new home phone.
  • ...unless you've converted your Google Voice number over to Project Fi, in which case things get slightly complicated. (If all of this sounds like a bunch of gibberish, it probably doesn't apply to you. Just take a swig of the nearest chilled beverage and move on.)
  • Google's free Google Voice calling service is actually internet-based, as you'd expect -- and it doesn't include 911 calling on its own. If you want your new home phone to be able to call 911 and relay your house's location, you'll need to sign up for a companion E911 calling service. OBi has a partnership with a company called Anveo that lets you do this for $15 a year -- a buck-25 a month -- which won't put much of a dent in your wallet, if that kind of thing is important to you.
  • Yes, there was a while when this whole shebang was supposed to stop working (excellent memory, Paco!). Since then, OBi made nice with Google and got official support to provide this service. Things could always change at some point in the future, but as of now, there's no indication that the free ride will be ending anytime soon. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

Capisce? Capisce. Happy calling, you home-dwelling humanoid.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

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