Cheap home phone service with VoIP – Obihai versus Ooma
For the last few years many budget-conscious folks have been using an Obihai VoIP adapter with Google Voice for completely free VoIP telephone service. It worked great, although it did not support emergency service (i.e. calls to 9-1-1). Unfortunately, earlier this year Google dropped support for this. So what are the current low-cost options?
There are a variety VoIP solutions for home users. You may have seen commercials for solutions from Magic Jack or Vonage, but there are others. The two solutions I’ve personally used are VoIP adapters from Obihai and Ooma. These work with standard telephones so if you still have a land line you can probably keep using some or all of your phones. If you do still have a land line you ought to immediately consider switching. VoIP service can be upwards of 90% cheaper than a traditional land line, so even factoring in the cost of new equipment the savings will be dramatic.
I’ve been using an OBi110 adapter for for about three years, with a basic Panasonic cordless phone system. A newer consumer-oriented model, the OBi200, has since been released with additional features like fax support and Wi-Fi (via the OBiWiFi Adapter). I originally used my Obihai solely with Google Voice for completely free phone service (again, with no emergency service) until XMPP support was officially dropped by Google, at which point I switched to a standard VoIP service provider – Callcentric. I signed up for a free phone number (my Google Voice number is forwarded to it to avoid the hassle of a new phone number) and a pay per call plan, and with light use the cost is about $3-4 per month. Personally I think the slight expense is worth it to have emergency service. Recently, however, Obihai announced that Google Voice is supported again! This is really great news. What I can do now is use a VoIP service provider for emergency calls (very cheap), and Google Voice for everything else (free), to save a couple bucks a month.
While using the Obihai I’ve been highly satisfied. It’s easy to set up and use, it has been very reliable, and the voice quality is consistently good. One nice feature, hinted to above, is that Obihai adapters support (at least) two VoIP services. With this you could have redundancy in the event that one provider was down, but more importantly you could actually use it to save money. VoIP service providers charge different prices for different types of calls, so for example you could have one provider for cheap incoming calls and another one for cheap outgoing calls. This adds a lot of flexibility with only a little complexity.
This brings me to the only complaint I can think of about Obihai adapters. Obihai does not sell VoIP service, so you will necessarily deal with multiple companies: one for the adapter and one (or more) for the actual service. I don’t have any issue with this since configuring the device is so straightforward, but some people might have trouble. Obihai has worked to reduce the impact of this issue by adding “approved service providers” which are even easier to configure with an Obihai adapter.
The Ooma Telo is a competitor to Obihai adapters. I’ve set it up for non-technical family members who still used expensive land lines. Compared to the OBi110 and 200 adapters, the Telo looks much more sleek, and the adapter itself functions as an answering machine, allowing access to voice mail. With the Obihai adapters you must use one of the connected phones to dial in to your voice mail. Besides that, Ooma itself is a VoIP service provider, so with a Telo you only ever deal with one company. The trade off for these slight advantages is a significantly higher cost; the Telo adapter is double if not triple the cost of a comparable Obihai adapter.
Besides the above advantages, the function of the Telo is essentially the same as Obihai. There is an easy to use web interface where you log on and configure the various settings. You can setup auto-pay for Ooma service just like you would with any VoIP provider for an Obihai. Ooma has different service plans available, but the cheapest is about $4 per month, roughly the same as what I’m paying to Callcentric. Features like caller ID and voice mail are no extra charge. This might be a surprise if you have a traditional land line, but the explanation is simple: there is intense competition among VoIP providers so they cannot gouge customers like a regular phone company does.
Note on number porting
If you have an existing phone number that you want to use with a new, cheap VoIP provider, it is likely possible but the cost varies considerably. Ooma charges $40 (source), Google Voice is $20 (source), Callcentric is $10 (source), and other VoIP service providers will vary. One note on the porting to Ooma. Their site says it takes a ridiculous “3-4 weeks”, but in my experience it has been very fast, under 24 hours. I don’t know why they say weeks but I guess it could take that long in a worst case scenario.
Now if you are going to use a VoIP service provider with an Obihai, instead of porting your number to your new provider you might want to consider porting it to Google Voice instead. With Google Voice you can easily forward it to the number provided by the VoIP provider. This makes it trivial to switch VoIP providers and keep your number. Many VoIP providers, including Callcentric, allow you to set your caller ID to a Google Voice number, which gives you the option of making Google Voice completely transparent to you and anyone calling you. However personally I like to use Google Voice features such as call screening and voice mail.
OBi and Ooma are definitely not the only options, they are just the ones I have personally used. Two others that might be worth checking out are the Nettalk DUO and magicJack. If you’ve used these or anything else please share your experience in the comments. Besides switching from an expensive land-line to free or cheap VoIP, you can save on your cell phone by switching to a prepaid service (if you haven’t already). Check out my article on this: Saving on your cell phone bill by going prepaid
I’m thoroughly confused! I have a T-Mobile Cell, a CenturyLink land line (which I want to get rid of) & an Obi200 with Vesatalink, used to be obivoice. When the Vestalink runs out, I would like to sign up with the new Google Voice; however, I want to keep my forever land line number. I understand that I can’t port my land line directly to Google Voice, but have to port it via a cell. I can port it to T-Mobile & then to Google, which would give me 2 T-Mobile accounts temporally. Do I then delete that T-Mobile account? Does this make any sense?? Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks, Colleen
Hi, Colleen. Yes, that is basically what you would need to do. Unfortunately it is a little convoluted. Luckily OBi support wrote a tutorial with all the steps: OBi Port Tutorial
It’s my understanding that one can use Obi along with GV to make VoIP calls via a smartphone. Additionally, VoIP calls won’t use up plan minutes. Is that right?
To use Google Voice with an Android smartphone you can use the Google Hangouts app (see Use Google Voice with Hangouts), no OBi required. Of course your phone needs some kind of Internet connection (Wi-Fi or a data plan). The OBi allows you to use a regular old telephone with Google Voice. Either way the calls made through Google Voice will be free to the U.S. and Canada.
I have a 22 year-old land line # that I keep for convenience. It has become my ‘junk’ number. I got a Google number early and used it to make long distance calls with the land line phone. I programmed all the codes into my Panasonic phones and it worked fine for my non-techical wife.
At some point I bought an Obihai 200 and then had two, separate phone systems in the house. One based on the wired # with the Panasonic wireless set, and a second, new Panasonic wireless set running from the Obihai. All was good.
Then Google dropped Obihai, I paid for an account with Anveo (one payment for a year) with a new, 3rd phone number and configured that through the Obihai 200. The Google number just floated for a while.
A few months ago when Google started supporting Obihai again, I switched the Obihai back to GV. I was never really satisfied with Anveo. Now, the Anveo number is floating in the ether.
Now the question. I want to drop the land-line company and port the land-line # to … somewhere, but where? I know the Obihai 200 will handle two separate lines, and it is beginning to sink in to my brain that Obihai is not a VOIP provider. So how do I do this?
I have thought about just buying one of the OOMA devices, porting the land-line #, and keeping the two systems separate. I’m going to end up paying a monthly fee anyway. The only difference is the cost of the OOMA hardware. Is this totally crazy? Is there a more simple solution?
Thanks for your expertise.
Hi, you should be able to avoid buying new hardware and even paying new fees to keep your land line. You can just port your land line number to a new Google Voice account (indirectly, though… see my reply to Colleen above). Last I checked the porting cost was a one-time $20 fee. From there you can decide what to do with it depending on your needs. I’m not 100% sure but I believe you can add a second Google Voice account to your existing OBi device. Or you could forward it to a cell phone (such as a cheap prepaid plan, e.g. with Cricket Wireless), or use the Google Hangouts app if you have an Android-based smartphone.
hey it’s nice to find someone talking about the advantages of multi-VoIP support 🙂
I’ve been using a Obi100 over GV for 6 months now (and yes, happy GV is officially supported again – woo hoo!) and I figure I’d figure out how to use this feature (what else does a geek do on his holiday? lol)
You state one scenario in regards to having one VoIP service handing incoming and another handling outgoing calls.
Is the config sophisticated enough where I can use GV for all domestic calls and say another VoIP service to handle my international calls?
Are there any other scenarios of using the multi-VoIP support feature you can think of that might be useful to readers?
Hi, yes that should be possible by creating routing rules for outbound calls. I believe you need to follow the Outbound Call Route Configuration section of the OBi Device Administration Guide (luckily there are a few examples). Another thing that might be useful would be to create rules to use a regular VoIP provider or a land line (if applicable) for 911 calls and Google Voice for everything else.
Do you consider voice/connection quality good on both the Ooma and Obihai? Do you think one is slightly better than the other?
I currently have the GVJackApp running with GV. I consider voice/connection quality poor on MagicJack, both with GV and previously (prior to GV) as a MagicJack standalone.
Hi, I haven’t noticed much difference between the Ooma and Obi (with GV or regular VoIP). One thing you might want to do (if you haven’t already) is configure QoS on your router to see if it helps.
Do you consider the voice/connection quality to be good on both Ooma and Obihai? Do you consider one slightly better than the other?
My experience is that the voice/connection quality on MagicJack is poor on both GV (now using GVJackApp) and as a standalone.
Just stumbled upon your site and need advice. I’m clueless about tech and the VOIP world … So I’ve got two landline numbers that I want to keep and reduce costs. Both are no longer ringing in physical locations but rather being “call forwarded” to my cell phone w/per-minute charges (long story how that happened…). I live in the 650 area code; one landline is 650 and the other is 415. I’d like both to ring into my house on one phone. Would VOIP service be for me? I chatted with Ooma reps and they suggest their Premier package whereby I can have 2 lines and make unlimited long distance and calls to Canada. Cost is $9.95 plus $4 in taxes. Basic pkg for one line is free plus taxes. Not familiar with either Ooma or Obi or how to use GV w/it. Would appreciate any guidance/suggestions given!
GV and Obihai should be the cheapest solution for this situation. You’d need two GV accounts, one for each number. After you port your two numbers to those GV accounts, you could buy an Obihai and configure the two GV accounts on it. You’d have to pay for porting two numbers and for the Obihai box (plus some phones to use with the Obihai, if you don’t already have them), but besides that there would be no ongoing costs. The one downside I can think of is the lack of 911 service. If you go this route I suggest confirming with Obihai before buying anything, just in case I’ve made a mistake. 😉
I am old school and thinking of catching up with all this technology. I am changing to cable internet and was considering changing my old telephone company phone service to bundle in with the cable. But after reading this I am rethinking. Which VoIP system would you recommend? I want to keep my old phone number. I have two cordless and one corded phone. I don’t mind going all cordless if necessary. I also have an alarm system which I have not seen any mention of alarm systems in any forum. One last question, do any have a battery backup for when power is out? Would love to have your advice. Thanks.
Hi, both Obihai and Ooma should be fine. The Obihai may be a little cheaper, but I think Ooma is easier to use, so I’d be inclined to recommend Ooma to you. Regarding your security system, I believe they normally use a dedicated phone line, in which case switching to VoIP would not be a problem. Just give your security company a call, they can confirm this. Tell them you want to switch your home phone service to VoIP and want to be sure your security system will be unaffected.
If you want to use all of your existing phones, they will all have to connect to the VoIP box somehow. You can connect them directly using a phone splitter (VoIP boxes often only have one phone jack), but it might not be convenient to have all your phones connecting there. If you have existing phone jacks in each room that you want to use, they could be rewired to connect to the VoIP box instead of to your existing phone company, but that would require the right tools and knowledge (or hiring someone). I think it’s easier to use one single cordless phone system. At my house I have the main cordless phone base is in the same room as the Obihai box (with the cable modem and router), while the additional handsets and chargers can be placed anywhere with a power outlet. Also the extra cost will be quickly offset by the (likely significant) savings from switching to VoIP.
Lastly, regarding the battery backup, keep in mind that even if the VoIP box has power, everything else connecting it to the Internet also needs power for VoIP to work. In effect, if you want to use VoIP during a power outage, you need a battery backup for your VoIP box, router, modem, and the main base of a cordless phone. The good news is that none of these are power hungry so a regular consumer-grade UPS (I like Tripp Lite, so something like a Tripp Lite OMNI900LCD) will provide hours of backup time for these devices. The bad news, though, is that you will still depend on your cable company making sure their own equipment has power. You might have noticed big boxes on your street labeled “cable” or “telecom”, well, those things need power for your cable Internet service to work, so even if those boxes have battery backups (they likely do, but they may or may not be maintained) if your entire street or neighborhood loses power you will eventually lose your Internet service and thus VoIP.
I just bought Obi200. I have a GV # and a traditional landline with ATT. I would like to know if I can connect my GV # now and later on connect my landline # after I have converted into GV#, all on the same Obi. Thanks.
Hi, that should be fine. However I’m not sure if you can use two numbers in one GV account (i.e. if you port your landline number to GV, I’m not sure but it might replace the existing GV number).
One more question. I have done all my research and think I will go with Ooma but I wanted to see if you can verify this. Ooma is telling me that I can plug their box into my modem and then plug the phone line into my existing wall jack. They say by plugging it into the phone jack, all phones throughout the house plugged into phone jacks will work. I heard this referred to as back feeding or something like that. Have you heard of this working?
Hi, yes I think this should work.
Yes, you can backfeed to the existing house phone wiring BUT first you must be sure your inside wiring is disconnected from the old copper wiring coming from the telephone company to your house. Otherwise, your Obi or Ooma gear may get fried. In other words, you can’t use your inside wiring for your new VOIP service while you still have service from the landline phone company.
Good to know, thanks!!
I am using Ooma Core and OBi110 for a few years. I have observed that there is a noticeable voice quality difference between both the services. Is it something related to the older model of OBi110? Is there any improvement in OBi200?
We have an OBi200. Bought from Amazon in 2015. It works perfectly. Like you, we have a Panasonic(Panasonic KX-TGD222N dect_6.0 2) cordless phone and a remote handset upstairs. That’s one terrific piece of hardware. The base has an answering machine. One thing that may seem trivial but is quite handy is that the handset rings as well as the base. Think taking one of the handsets to another room where you can’t hear the base ringing.
We chose the Obi200 from watching YouTube videos.
Like this one:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myWCZxFGSSA&t=77s
It’s a bit long but I think it covers most any question you might have. We have excellent clear phone calls. We chose to get a new phone number from Google(it’s free). We had already ported our old landline number to our cellphone. So say goodby to your landline company and all those weird charges on your monthly bill.