Land-line replacement with Google Voice

For many years my wife and I continued to pay the exorbitant amount of money to my local phone company for a land-line that we never used.  My wife and I argued about it whenever I took the time to read the bill and remembered how much I was being ripped off.  The big argument always ended with two very valid points:

  1. E-911 is irreplaceable – 911 from a cell phone can go just about anywhere (city, county or even state 911 dispatch) with only vague location information.
  2. We can’t depend on a baby sitter having a cell phone to use in an emergency or with a question.

So I continued to pay the money every month for a service that we didn’t use.  Then one day I received a rate increase notice from our phone company, and it was the last straw.  I’d had it, it was time to find a suitable replacement that would still perform all of the functions of the land-line but at a reasonable price.

The replacement had to be able to offer the following:

  1. E-911
  2. Very small (or no) monthly fees
  3. Cheap (or no) usage rates for those times when we do use it
  4. The ability to take our land-line number with us

Several options immediately came to mind:

  1. Porting our land-line to an old cell phone activated on our existing family plan, then leaving that phone at home.  PROBLEM: No E-911
  2. VIOP.  PROBLEM:  Difficult to do E-911, monthly service fees vary widely, difficult to port a land-line number.

Then the solution appeared with the introduction of a device absolutely perfect for this scenario.  The OBi200 VoIP Adapter, which supports 4 VOIP services at the same time, including Google Voice.  The appearance of this adapter on the market provided me the opportunity to fulfill all of the requirements necessary to rid myself of my old land-line phone.  One VOIP service would be used for all incoming and outbound calls using Google Voice, the other would be used for E-911 with Callcentric, and would only service 911 calls.

So I decided to give it a shot and purchased the following items:

  1. OBi200 VoIP Adapter – the VOIP adapter to give me a “phone line” to connect a phone to.
  2. Panasonic DECT 6.0 Expandable Phone with 3 Handsets – A cordless phone that supports multiple hand-sets so I could place the different hand-sets throughout the house without phone jacks.

Setting up the VOIP device and accounts

The first account I setup was my Google Voice account.  This was easy, Google walked me through the process, and in my initial setup I just received a temporary number.  This number didn’t matter to me, although it turned out to be nice later on when I wanted to test the VOIP adapter prior to porting my real number to Google Voice.  Some important Google Voice settings:

  • Settings -> Phone:  Forward calls to “Google Chat” – allows Google Voice to ring the VOIP adapter for incoming calls
  • Settings -> Voicemail & Text:
    • Voicemail greeting – to setup your voicemail message
    • Recorded name
    • Voicemail notifications – I choose to have my transcribed voicemail messages emailed to me
    • Text forwarding – I choose to have any texts to the Google Voice number emailed to me
    • Voicemail transcripts – I choose to have Google Voice transcribe my voicemail messages into text form

The second account I setup was my Callcentric account.  This process wasn’t quite as simple as the Google Voice setup, but still manageable.  In setting up the account I chose the following services:

  • Pay Per Call (free)
  • Free Phone Number (free)
  • E-911 ($1.50 / month) – when selecting this option, it also walked me through the additional steps of setting my address for E-911 – don’t forget this step!
  • Automated account re-charge (in Account preferences -> Billing)

Configuring the OBi200 VoIP Adapter for Google Voice and Callcentric:

  1. Obihai has made this process very simple.
    • I plugged the OBi200 VoIP Adapter into the my router.
    • Then I plugged the cordless phone into the OBi200 VoIP Adapter.
    • Then I followed the instructions that came with the unit which walked me through setting up the device with their OBiTALK service.
  2. Once the OBi200 VoIP Adapter was connected to OBiTALK, it was point-and-click easy to configure.
  3. In the OBiTALK interface, I configured Google Voice  as SP1.
    • I followed their steps to input the information about my Google Voice account.
    • I checked the option “Make this the primary line to call out from”
    • I UNchecked the option “Voicemail notification” because Google Voice transcribes and emails me my voicemail messages, so the little blinking light on the phone got annoying after awhile.
    • This configuration worked out of the box, no problems.  I was able to place calls with and receive calls to the temporary Google Voice number.
  4. In the OBiTALK interface, I configured Callcentric  as SP2.
    • I followed their steps to input the information about my Callcentric account.
    • I checked the option “Use this service for emergency 911 calls”
    • I made sure both “Make this primary line” and “Voicemail notification” were UNchecked.
    • I then attempted a test call to confirm SP2 was working properly by dialing:  **2 17771234567   (**2 tells the OBi200 to use SP2 when dialing, and 17771234567 is a Callcentric test number where you can listen *and most importantly* speak to provide voice commands.
    • I could hear the other end just fine, but when I attempted to speak commands, it wouldn’t hear anything.  This indicated that something wasn’t quite right with the setup.  Time to take off the gloves.
    • In the OBiTALK “Device Configuration” for the OBi200, I clicked “OBi Expert Configuration” then “Enter OBi Expert”
    • Under “ITSB Profile B SIP” I changed the following settings:
      1. ProxyServerPort: 5080
      2. RegistrarServerPort: 5080
      3. OutBoundServerPort: 5080
    • I then re-tested the test number:  **2 17771234567  and this time, success!  I could both hear the other side and it could understand my verbal instructions.

Now came the tricky part – porting my old number.  If you don’t want to mess with porting a number, you can skip this next section and move on the results & benefits.

Porting the land-line number to Google Voice

Google supports porting numbers, however they only support porting from mobile carriers.  This proved to increase the complexity, difficulty, stress and time.  However, knowing what I know now, I would do it again.  Everyone had our old land-line number, including banks, relatives, the church, etc – so to change it would have been much worse than what I had to go through to port the number.

The first thing to do is to make sure you can port your number. Google provides a page for checking your number’s portability. If your number is portable, you can skip this whole next section with the mobile number work-around. If not, continue below.

Here are the steps that I took, and the relative length of time each step took:

  1. Found an old flip-phone of my wife’s that we’d kept after she activated a new phone.
  2. Called up our mobile phone carrier and activated a new line on the old phone, porting our land-line number from our phone company to this new line.
  3. Opened a new account with our land-line provider for a new DSL connection, since porting my old phone number forced my entire account to be closed, deactivating my DSL as well.
  4. After a few weeks with the land-line number being serviced by the old flip-phone, I logged into Google Voice and changed my phone number (porting my number from the mobile carrier using the Settings -> Phone tab).  There was a 1-time fee of $20 to port the number.
  5. Testing making and receiving calls with the new ported number.

More details about each step above, including areas to make sure you don’t get into trouble:

#1 – There are alternatives – I’ve heard of some people buying a pre-paid sim card from carriers like T-Mobile and activating the line on an existing phone to port the number.

#2 – Where do I begin, this was a nightmare.  Some advice here:

  1. Make double-sure that the representative on the phone understands that you’re activating a NEW line.  Somehow the representative I spoke with thought I was replacing MY mobile number with the new one I was porting over.  Luckily I figured this out before I lost my number, but it was close.
  2. Confirm ahead of time that there is no contact or early cancellation fee.  If you’re using an existing phone, this shouldn’t be an issue, but just make sure.  I told the rep that I was testing this out to see if it was going to work, and wasn’t sure if we’d keep it or not.  Yeah, a little fib.
  3. Because they activated the ported number over my old number, it also meant that my account’s settings and administration abilities migrated to the new number that was created.  It took 6 calls before they finally had everything with my cell number restored to where it was prior.
  4. Double and triple check your mobile bill for several months after to make sure nothing looks funny.
  5. Fixing this fiasco took 6 calls to customer service over a period of probably a month.  I only had the number active on my account for 2 weeks, so some calls were prior to porting it to Google Voice, and some were after fixing additional problems.

#3 – Understand that if you do have DSL with your land-line phone, they will most likely have to cancel your entire account when you port your number.  This is because your account number is also your phone number, and when that number is transferred away, they can’t give you a new one.  This cost me about a week without internet service.

#4 – No problems here.  Porting the number automatically cancelled the new line I added to my mobile account, and the port took only a matter of minutes before it was working correctly on Google Voice.

Results & benefits

Several months down the road, I’m very happy to report that everything has been going very well.  Some of the HUGE benefits of this new setup:

  1. No incredibly expensive land-line bill from the local phone company
  2. Google Voice transcribes any voicemail messages and emails them to me
  3. Google Voice allows me to block callers and/or mark calls/texts/voicemail messages as spam, thus eventually reducing the amount of telemarketing / political calls that I receive
  4. Google Voice has free unlimited calling to any U.S. number and very reasonable international rates
  5. Google Voice can forward calls originally directed to my home number to my mobile phone if I’m away from home and need to receive calls directed there
  6. Callcentric E-911 works beautifully.  I called the local police non-emergency number to schedule a test 911 call.  When I made the test call, my local 911 dispatch received the call and my home address was provided to them correctly.

Costs / savings

Originally, I was paying $54/month to the local phone company for land-line phone + DSL.

Now I pay $33/month to the local phone company for DSL + $1.50/month to Callcentric for E-911

Costs in the conversion:

Total:  $153.99

Number of months to recover conversion costs:  6