Having a telephone other than your cell phone can be handy. If you find yourself needing one, you might as well choose a solution with no monthly cost!
The OBi200 by Polycom provides everything you need for a home phone or office through Google Voice. For a one-time purchase of about $50, this little box has provided me with years of free phone service, and a few other benefits, as well.
So, What Is It?
Voice over IP (VoIP) is a technology that, essentially, provides digital phone service. Typically, a VoIP device requires specialized hardware or phones to function. But the OBi VoIP box bridges this digital technology with standard analog devices, like phones and fax machines.
Google Voice provides the digital phone service for free. This means you can use any standard phone connected to the telephone jack on the OBi to make local and long-distance calls at no cost. You can also connect the telephone jack OBi to any telephone jack in your home with a standard phone cable. This effectively activates a dial tone on every phone jack in your home!
There are two OBi VoIP boxes, and they can both connect directly to your internet router through an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi with an optional adapter. Both devices bridge digital phone service to a standard phone or fax machine.
Both OBi VoIP devices have a USB port that can extend the capabilities of the device. For example, the proprietary OBiWiFi adapter uses this port to provide Wi-Fi internet connection capability. This is particularly handy if you can’t easily connect the OBi directly to the router with an actual network cable.
The OBi VoIP devices also support advanced call features, such as call forwarding, caller ID, call waiting, three-way calling, caller ID blocking, anonymous call block, automatic callback, repeat dialing, message waiting, speed dialing, and many more.
A side benefit of Google Voice is you can configure it to ring one or more additional phone numbers simultaneously. When someone calls your Google Voice number, any phone physically attached to the OBi rings, as does any other phone number you’ve set up. This means you can have one phone number that rings both your home (the OBi) and cell phones, so anyone can easily reach you, any time.
The E911 Emergency Services
Enhanced 911 (E911) service is available for an annual fee (usually around $20 to $25). I’ve had Anveo E911 service on my OBi device for years. It worked flawlessly the one time I had to use it for a medical emergency.
The nice thing is all your essential information—such as your name and address—pop up on the 911 operator’s screen as part of the enhanced 911 profile. I highly recommend you enable and configure this service. Otherwise, if someone who isn’t familiar with the OBi VoIP system tries to dial 911 as they would on a standard phone, precious time might be lost in an emergency.
To configure your OBi device to work with Google Voice or an E911 service provider, check out our guide to ditching your home phone bill.
Which OBi Device Do I Need?
The OBi VoIP device comes in two models—here are their features:
- OBi200: The standard one-line device works well if you just want to add one standard phone to your home, or if you need a business line for your home office.
- OBi202: You can use the two-line box for several scenarios. Perhaps you need one line for your home and one for your office. Maybe you need two lines and basic call routing for a small home office. If you need a phone line and a dedicated fax line, this device can handle that, too.
There’s a third device (the OBi212) that allows two VoIP lines and a traditional analog line to coexist. This is particularly handy when using the OBi because you can route incoming calls to either of the two digital VoIP lines or the analog POTS line. However, it appears Polycom is phasing out this model.
However, for most home or Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) users, either the OBi200 or OBi202 will suffice.
What to Expect From Your OBi
Once you pick up an OBi and configure it, this is what you can expect:
- Free phone calls! You’ll never get a bill for basic phone service, including local and long-distance calls.
- You can use any standard telephone.
- You can use a standard fax machine without paying for phone service
- You get support from Polycom—a well-respected communication technology company.
While there are a lot of upsides to these devices, there are a few caveats, as well:
- If you change the password to your Google account, it can disrupt the OBi’s ability to connect with Google Voice. If your OBi VoIP box stops working, your Google credentials might be the cause.
- Google can change the Google Voice service interface at any time. The good folks at Polycom are usually on top of this. However, sometimes, you might have to update the firmware or reconfigure the OBi device to re-establish its connection.
- Your internet must be connected and functioning for your OBi to work correctly. You should be aware of this because, for example, if the internet goes out in a bad storm, you won’t be able to call 911 on a phone connected to an OBi box.
That last point can be a bit of a benefit in other situations, though. When your OBi goes offline, you receive an email reporting that status. This lets you know when you’ve lost internet service at home, even when you’re not there. You also receive a notification when the OBi comes back online. This can be helpful if you have other devices, like smarthome equipment or security cameras, that require an internet connection for you to access their services away from home.
These days, most companies strive for recurring revenue; it seems like everything comes with a monthly fee.
However, Polycom markets a reliable device that serves its purpose, without a recurring fee. The money you save from not paying a monthly phone bill will easily cover the upfront cost of the OBi device in just a few months.