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My review of OBi110/OBi100 and why you must read this before buying any VoIP hardware (ATA) [Review]

By Alok Saboo on March 29th, 2011

One of stumbling blocks for rapid diffusion of VoIP services is the inherent complexity of the existing VoIP hardware. An ATAs (Analog Telephone Adapters) is a typical example of VoIP hardware, which basically is a router-like box that allows a regular analog phone to be used over the Internet (for more details, look at 6 ways of using VoIP, including ATAs). Dig into any of the popular ATAs (Analog Telephone Adapters) and you will realize that configuring one requires no less than a networking genius (may be I am exaggerating, but you get the point). Networking giants like Cisco (who owns Linksys) hurriedly modified their router firmware to be used in their VoIP devices, e.g., Cisco SPA 3102, Linksys WRP400. Herein lies the problem. While a router was intended to be used by networking experts, an ATA is a consumer device and needs to be designed for use by an average person. A successful consumer product needs to be sophisticated, yet easy to use.

Obihai Logo

While Cisco’s of the world have been ignoring consumer needs, I am truly excited to introduce OBi110/OBi100, which seems to be built from the ground-up keeping the consumer in mind. These devices are developed and marketed by Obihai Technology Inc., a California based startup. The only difference between the two devices is that the OBi100 does not come with a FXO port to connect a traditional phone line (PSTN) and hence is little smaller than the OBi110. So, if you do not have a traditional phone line and do not plan to get one, you can go for OBi100, which is slightly cheaper than the OBi110. In this tutorial, I will talk about the OBi110. Other than the VoIP bridging part, everything else is applicable to the OBi100.

Getting Started with OBi110

Out of the box, the OBi110 comes with the OBi110 device, a telephone cable, Ethernet cable, power adapter, and a brief quick start guide.

OBi110 Package contents

The front of the OBi110 has 4 LEDs to indicate the status of your device.

OBi110 - Front side with LEDs for status

The back of the device has the FXO (Line) port, FXS (Phone) port, ethernet jack, and a power port.

OBi110 - Back side with all the connections

Your 9 digit OBi number is printed below the device.

OBi110 - Back side with the OBi Number

To get started, connect the OBi to the Internet using the Ethernet cord and power it up. If you have a traditional phone line, connect your phone line to the OBi LINE port using the RJ-11 phone cable. You can test your setup by dialing the OBiTALK echo test number **9 222 222 222.

You can join the OBi network even without the OBi110 device. You can use OBiAPP to access the OBi network on your desktop or the OBiON iPhone or Android app to connect via your smart phone and make unlimited free call to any other OBi number. Each OBi endpoint, be it the OBi110 device or the (desktop or the smartphone) soft phone, has a 9 digit OBi number. Just dial **9 followed by the OBi number to be connected to your destination. 

The following video provides a detailed walkthrough on all the three methods (OBi110 device; OBiAPP – the desktop app; and OBiON – the smartphone app) to get started with OBi.

 

Please note that I have used the Bria soft phone in the video. If you are using Blink or any other SIP client that needs the domain in the format USER_NAME@DOMAIN.COM, use <9-digit-OBi-number>@127.0.0.1 instead.

OBi110 Key Features

I will talk about some of the key features of the OBi in upcoming posts, but just to provide a glimpse, here are the key features of the device:

- 1-click interconnect with Google Voice for free incoming and outgoing calls – Probably, the biggest seller for the OBi110 is the seamless integration with Google Voice. OBi provides a perfect way to make and receive free calls through Google Voice using a regular phone. Till Google officially starts supporting SIP on Google Voice, this is a no-brainer. Also, unlike YateClient that could only make Google Voice (SIP) calls, OBi can make and receive Google Voice calls. Also, you do not need to keep your computer running to use the OBi.

- 1 FXO port, 1 FXS port – As can be seen from the pictures above, the OBi110 has both an FXO (Line) and an FXS (Phone) ports to connect your (traditional) phone line (if you have one) and an analog phone. More importantly, you can use the same phone connected to the OBi for both traditional phone line and your VoIP line, eliminating the need to have two separate phones. Just use **8 and you are ready to make calls using your traditional phone connection; dial **1 or **2 to use one of your VoIP accounts (read the next point). This may seem trivial, but most consumer grade ATAs do not have this feature. Again, the FXO port is not available in the OBi100.

- Ability to configure 2 SIP accounts at once – OBi110 supports two SIP accounts, without requiring separate phones to be used with each SIP account (something that most ATAs require). A single phone connected to the OBi110 can access both the accounts – **1 for account 1 and **2 for account 2. You can define one account to be the primary account to call out. 

- Multiple ways to access VoIP service – In addition to the OBi110, you can access VoIP services on your desktop via a regular SIP client (e.g., YateClient, x-lite) through OBiAPP. You can also use mobile VoIP (mVoIP) to access the OBi services on your iOS or Android devices through OBiON. More importantly, each endpoint, be it the OBi110 or the OBiAPP (desktop client) or the OBiON (mobile VoIP client), has a unique 9 digit OBi number and calls within the OBi network are completely FREE.

- Bridges PSTN line with VoIP – One of the unique features of the OBi is the ability to bridge the PSTN connection with your VoIP accounts, i.e., you can use a combination of VoIP and traditional phone line (PSTN) to complete a call. For example, if you are on the road and want to make an international call, you can call into your OBi by dialing the PSTN number connected to the it and initiate a NEW VoIP call. The video provides an overview of the bridging feature. Please note that this feature is not available in the OBi100. However, you can bridge two VoIP connections on the OBi100.

 

- Extremely affordable – For all these great features, the OBi devices are surprisingly affordable. The OBi110 is available for only $69.99 and the OBi100 is available for only $59.99. Don’t take my word for it, look at the 5 star feedback on Amazon and you will know how great this device is.

Coupon codes available: If you act fast, you can use the coupon HELLOOBI to get the OBi100 for only $43.99 and coupon GREATBUY to get the OBi110 for only $49.99. Enter these coupons during the Amazon checkout process where it says "Do you have any gift cards or promotional claim codes?" for the discounts to be applied.

Please note that these coupons are for limited time only and will work only when the OBi is sold by Obihai, i.e., it says “Sold by Obihai” next to the product’s price. You can buy up to four units of each model using the coupon codes. However, keep in mind that each coupon code can be used only one time by an individual. So, if you were to come back later to try to buy more units (let’s say they only bought 2 units initially), then you will not be able to use the coupon code on the second purchase.

What makes the OBi110 from Obihai special?

While the OBi110 is a great device overall and has some nifty features (which will take us a few posts to cover), the thing that makes OBi110 and Obihai special is the paradigm shift from hardware to solutions.

Om Malik has a very nice post on why the future of hardware is services and Obihai seems to have followed the mantra to the T. Instead of taking the traditional approach of treating VoIP equipment as hardware, Obihai has attached a layer of service in the form of OBiTALK to the OBi110. While the OBi110 is a decent ATA in itself, the combination of the ATA and the OBiTALK platform is a killer. Services increase the number of touch-points with the customer and hence increases engagement. 

OBiTALK is a FREE web-based service that masks all the complexities of the ATA and provides an extremely intuitive and easy to use interface to configure the device, thereby removing the inherent complexities of existing VoIP hardware. ObiTALK provides great opportunity to greatly enhance consumer experience. Just to give you an example, you can update the firmware on your OBi device by a single click. Whenever a firmware update is available, you can see a notification next to your device and just clicking it will give you an option to automatically update the firmware.

OBi110 Automatic 1-click Firmware Upgrade

OBi110 Automatic 1-click Firmware Upgrade

If you are a seasoned user and prefer to fine tune the settings, OBiTALK even offers an “Expert Mode” that provides access to all the options (more on that in a later post). Moreover, since the service is web-based, it is extremely easy to maintain or configure the device remotely. If you are a system administrator, this is a huge time savior.

The OBi110 has so many features that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to go into details of each one in a single post. I genuinely believe that the OBi is a paradigm shift in the way we and the manufacturers look at VoIP hardware. Not surprisingly, then friends at NerdVittles have termed the OBi110 as the VoIP device of 2011. This post was intended to stoke your interest in the device. I will have follow up post(s) to detail the key features of the device. Meanwhile, look at the tutorials by Michigan Telephone Blog.

Disclaimer: Apparently, FTC requires me to disclose that I have received my OBi110 for review purposes from Obihai. However, the recommendations in this (or any other post that may follow) are not influenced by any goodies and are purely based on my objective evaluations of the device.

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