The assumptions here are that you have a US land line, it has a phone number you've grown attached to, you or someone else in your household prefers to talk on something traditionally phone-like, you want to pay as little as possible for the privilege, that you have a high tolerance for - or ideally derive pleasure from - configuring gadgets, and that pains in the ass don't count as payment for the purposes of the fourth assumption. At this point, we're probably down to me, as there is low or negative correlation for simultaneous applicability of the forgoing assumptions.
There internet contains instructions for overlapping pieces of the procedure outlined here, but there are a few gotchas that I discovered, so, if you're like me enough for all this to be relevant but not sufficiently like me to actually enjoy the gotchas, read on.
The basic components of the plan are:
- Google voice - for the cheap or free service,
- An OBi100 SIP gateway to connect Google to your telephone,
- An ATT Go Phone on which to park your existing phone number for a short period of time.
The last of these is necessary, because Google voice ports numbers only from existing mobile accounts, not from landline carriers.
First, you need to purchase the physical objects. You need the OBi device itself. The basic model, the OBi 100, as of today costs $39 from Amazon. There are more expensive models, which would allow you to connect to many SIP providers simultaneously, gate in an actual landline, or connect a FAX machine. Probably you don't need that.
You also need a acheap prepaid phone. Currently, there is one for $15 post paid, but that is probably the most transient bit of information in this post. In any case, it doesn't matter what phone you get, so you might as well get the cheapest. It's likely that you can do this with carriers other than ATT, but ATT demonstrably works for many people, and, unless someone pays you to take their phone, it can at most be $15 cheaper. When you order the phone online, you will be asked if you want to port an existing number. The answer is yes! If you enter no here, you'll dramatically increase the amount of time you spend talking to ATT reps on the phone. The number will not actually port until the new phone is activated, so you can continue to use the old line after ordering.
While you wait for packages to arrive, create a completely new Google account and set up Google Voice on it. You do not want to use an existing account, or an account you will use for any other purpose, as it will be necessary later to give Obihai your password. By the same token, don't set up 2-factor authentication on this new account, or you have a complete password to give. While you shouldn't care at all about the phone number they assign to you, Google will still force you to choose a preferred exchange or zip code and then, if those correspond to a somewhat populated city, explain that nothing is available. Save valuable seconds by starting with something from an obscure plain state. You might as well complete the GV setup, the most important aspects of which are (1) selecting Forward calls to Google Chat and (2) turning off call screening. You have to do both of those, or nothing will work. You could also enter an email address to which to forward voice mail. You should not configure the account to forward voice calls to another telephone number, as unanswered calls would go nondeterministically to one of two rival voicemail boxes, depending on how long each took to answer.
Also set up an account on obitalk.com, (not obihai.com). It will be recommended that you sign in with Google rather than create an id and passord, but don't. You'll need a real password in order to use the cool phone apps later. When a pop up asks if you want to add an Obi device, click no and just log off. Then wait for the UPS guy.
When the OBi arrives, follow the exact instructions on the little
card as to what to plug in and in what order. Minor deviations from the
protocol end in failure and force you to start over. When all is
connected and the blinking lights have reached equilibrium, make the
suggested test call from the attached telephone,
**9 222 222
222. If you know too much, you'll wonder whether you need to open
up a router port; the answer is no, the device initiates
connections through the NAT.
Now log back in to obitalk. Click "add a device," and choose your
model. You'll then be given a more random looking
** number to
dial from the telephone. Shortly after you do, your box will show up
on the "Dashboard." Basically, it filled in an "OBi number," a serial number and
a MAC address for you. You could now call up like-minded
electronics consumers, if you knew their OBi number. I suspect that
nobody has ever done this.
To make real calls, you need to connect your Google Voice account. (Note that the OBi box works with any SIP provider, but I'm only going to talk about Google.) Click the gear on the row of the first service provider on the obitalk dashboard (depending on the exact OBi model, there may be a few), charge headlong through the modal dialog acknowledging the unavailability of 911 service, choose Google Voice from the list of providers and enter your Google credentials as I said you would have to do. Back on the dashboard, you should see the word "Connected" on the service provider row. If you see "Backing Off," it's probably because you didn't enter the correct credentials.
Now, verify that you can make and receive calls on your new, arbitrary GV number.
When the Go Phone arrives, do the obvious things with the battery and
SIM card and turn it on. You might have expected it to connect to the
ATT network automatically and trigger the porting process. Or, if
you're less optimistic, but still a sucker, you follow the
instructions, which have you call
611 from the Go Phone ("cannot connect") or call, from another phone,
a different toll free number (after much DTMF, a synthesized
voice fails to recognize your 10-digit number), or online (more or less
the same message, but without the comforting dipthongs). What you'll have
to do instead is call the technical support line for non-pre-paid
phones. They will try to transfer you to the useless toll-free line,
but what you really want is technical support in the porting
department. It may be unpatriotic to say, but basically keep trying until the person
on the other end is obviously only pretending to be American, as he's
likely to have been educated properly.
At some point during this saga, ask for and
write down your ATT account number "for your records." It isn't
written on any document to which you have access, and you'll need it
After much fuss, your temporary mobile phone will display a 3G
signal. Either via
611 or att.com/mygophone, add the
smallest possible amount of money to your account, which seems to be $10.
You only need the phone to work for a few days.
The old carrier's line will, of
course, go dead; although the number port is supposed to cancel the
departed service automatically, it might not, so call whatever well
hidden support line is supposed to handle this, prepared to turn a
deaf ear to repeated pleas for your continued custom.
Now that your old number lives on ATT wireless, it is straightforward
it to Google. For this, you'll pay $20, and you'll need the ATT account
number you wrote down two paragraphs ago. Within a few days, if all goes
well, you will have a setup that behaves exactly like your old fixed
phone, but with no ongoing charges (though you still have to pay for
You'll have spent a total of $85, assuming you can't sell the burner
(which might actually be worth keeping as a backup for
calls, carriers being required to put those through whether or not you
have an account).
Of course all the standard Google Voice goodies work. You can designate former friends as spammerss, set up custom greetings for actual friends, receive SMS (though only from within the US), etc.
For one last cheap thrill, you can download the OBiON app for iOS or Android. This lets you call through your obitalk line from the smarphone over 3G or wifi. It's probably only useful for international calls, though there might be occasional benefit to pretending to be calling someone from home. You need to log in with obitalk credentials, which is why you set them up earlier instead of logging into obitalk with a Google ID. Note that you could have used OBiON without the OBi device, but I can't think of a good reason to do so.
Well, that was fun. Having done all this, I will probably use the fixed phone as many times each year as I did last, so maybe 5 times altogether before I get bored and try something else.