Google Voice has been the in-crowd's way to make and receive calls for a while now, but for the past few weeks I've been doing something with even more hipster cred.
I've hooked my Google Voice account up to an old-school landline handset that even my grandmother couldn't tell apart from Ma Bell, and I did away with the need to involve a PC or pesky things like phone bills in the whole process. Smells like freedom to me.
If you detect another VoIP product afoot here, you're right on the money. I've been testing the OBi100 and OBi110 for quite a while now.
The idea is actually pretty simple and will be familiar to many Skype or Vonage fans who use similar products. Basically, OBi makes small converter boxes that plug directly into your broadband router on one end, and a traditional landline phone on the other. OBi has its own voice over Internet Protocol service, OBiTalk, to connect to other OBi users for free, but the real selling point is using the box as a bridge to Google Voice and a handful of other services.
For me, setup was pretty straightforward. Once the box was physically hooked up, I registered for OBiTalk on OBi's Web site and connected my Google Voice account via the OBitalk dashboard.
There was one hiccup in the process--I had to disable two-step login verification on my Google account for the OBi to connect (I later noticed this was also mentioned in OBi's documentation). Once that was done, I was able to simply pick up the handset, get a dial tone, and call anywhere in the country for free. By the same token, calls to my Google Voice number rang through to the OBi-connected handset.
Call quality was excellent over a 6Mbps DSL connection at an office here in the rural southern Rockies, generally limited only by the capabilities of the copper wire or cell signal on the other end of the line.
One caveat--I wasn't able to use the OBi devices at all on the satellite Internet connection at my home. OBi told me they know of soldiers in Afghanistan who have been able to place calls over OBitalk using a satellite connection, but it wasn't happening on my WildBlue dish. I wouldn't fault Obihai for this--I've never been able to successfully complete a call with any VoIP service, including Skype, from my home connection.
I wasn't able to test an OBitalk-to-OBitalk in-network call, but for now I don't imagine many users will be using this option either. That said, the notion of connecting for free to someone running the OBiOn iOS or Android app is an attractive alternative to Skype if OBi can reach the right critical mass to compete.
While not a household name, Obihai isn't exactly new to the VoIP game. Founder Jan Fandrianto's inventions have underlied technology used by Cisco, Vonage, and others. The OBi 100 and OBi 110 are basically the same device, with an extra port on the OBi 110 that allows users to connect to a regular home landline and even bridge calls between VoIP and the regular switched phone network.
OBi devices are priced in the $40 to $50 range to compete with the likes of Magic Jack and Nettalk. Unlike the competition, using OBitalk as a Google Voice bridge could mean doing away with a landline phone bill completely. Magic Jack, Nettalk, and others charge a (pretty minimal) annual fee for use. OBi's also happy to point to its 5-star rating on Amazon.
Watch the video below for a few other features of the OBi lineup: