Dust Off that Analog Phone

by Dave Michels

I find it frustrating that Google Inc. keeps the service on such a tight leash. Despite this negligence, an ecosystem is forming around the service. Today’s GV topic is the OBI100 made by Obihai.

Obihai puts a new twist on the ATA concept.  The ATA is a little box that acts as a simple gateway between the VoIP and analog world. If you use Vonage with an analog phone you have one. The Obihai twist is combine its “black box” (actually white) with a cloud service that creates a user customizable gateway service.

I set-up an my Obi100 in a matter of minutes and made my old analog Trmline phone a bona fide Google Voice hotline. The matter of minutes officially started after the time spent searching for an analog phone. In addition to Google Voice, the device works with a variety of Internet service providers, but I only tried Google Voice.

After set up, I could make and receive calls from the analog phone “connected” to Google Voice, complete with my Google Voice CallerID and free usage. Once set-up, a computer isn’t needed any more. The device (and phone) can be moved to any broadband connected location. However, if I use it by the computer, I have click to dial too. The device actually replaces the Call Phones softphone in the Google client. In order to receive calls, you need to tell Google Voice to ring Google Chat on the desktop. This makes the analog phone ring (instead of the desktop). To be clear, this is a single time set-up option, after that it just works.

In theory, I could plug this into an analog trunk port on a phone system to make and receive Google Voice calls. I don’t see a reason why this would not work, but I haven’t tried it yet.

So who would want such a device? Mostly consumers – the Magic Jack crowd will find it cheaper plus it doesn’t require an always-on computer to use it.

What I find most interesting though is how the Google Voice ecosystem continues to grow – despite Google.  The only thing Google has announced lately is the ability to keep multiple numbers. All the other GV related news is being generated external of the Googleplex.  Recent GV conversations include topics like Microsoft buying Skype for $8.5B, Sprint supporting Google Voice (see Google and me), and this Obihai box. Google Voice fits into just about any conversation that includes mobility, video, or even presence/IM, but Google itself has nothing to say. Google managed to (again) forget to invite the GV team to its recent developer conference: Google IO.

The Obihai units are available from Amazon. There are currently two models to choose from:  the OBI100 and the OBI110. The difference is the 110 can bridge traditional analog and SIP to a single phone. That’s a nice solution for homes that still have analog phone service. Both units require a wired LAN connection and local power. I’d like to see future models that can be powered over Ethernet (not a big deal in the consumer space) and a Wi-Fi capable unit. Power jacks are a lot easier to find than LAN jacks – and I set up office in some strange places.