Cost-cutting seems to be the nature of the IT industry these days. Everywhere you look the motivation seems to be cost-reduction both internal and external. There's just no escaping it. So why not enact some cost-cutting of your own? I did this through a simple ObiHai202, VoIP Gateway. In a previous article, here I covered this at a high-level and all the wide-ranging topics of VoIP. Now it's time to re-visit this topic and tell you how going from the soon-to-be-defunct GoogleVoice (which was totally free) to the best low-cost options I could find went and show you how simple the setups really are.
Inbound and Outbound Providers
After much wailing and gnashing of teeth I came up with the following provider choices:
- Inbound Service: CallCentric.com, $10 Minimum Fee for initial setup; First Month will be $4.50 (assuming you are in the US and Canada) and each month thereafter will be $1.50. This was a fairly simple choice--they are one of the few providers that do not cap in-bound calling minutes and one of the cheapest, at only $1.50 per month (which is an E911 recovery/concession fee.) if you use their "free inbound" package, which gives you a regular phone number in NY State. You can actually get two free numbers if you want---the second number can ring a different phone, the same phone or be dedicated to fax reception.
- Outbound Service: I decided to take advantage of the ability to split inbound and outbound service providers here and went with VoIPVoIP which is the 2nd cheapest provider I could find with it comes to tollfree calls---they are one of of only two remaining providers who offer free outbound calling to tollfree numbers. VoIPVoIP requires a initial 10 dollar deposit in your account and charges you a very reasonable 1.9 cents per minute for all non-tollfree calls. As previously mentioned tollfree calls are 0 cents minute. :D I have actually used VoIPVoIP for almost a year as a secondary line. . . . so far I average about 8 dollars per year. Yes, I spent an enourmous amount of time calling tollfree numbers.
- Outbound Service 2: So here's where things get really interesting. I like having two outbound lines--it's proven handy more than once. However, I do not want to pay as much for a secondary line as a primary line and it would seem I'm in luck. Callwithus.com offers a 100% free tollfree calling service. You don't even need an account to use it--however, the ObiHai202 and just about every other VoIP client regardless of vendor and implementation doesn't support anonymous sign-ups like this. The work around is to sign up for an account and not deposit any funds--this will give you the required username and password the VoIP client requires. The downside is callwithus.com scrubs their accounts monthly, so you'll have to re-signup monthly if you want to take advantage. Or deposit funds and use them as your primary outbound service--the reason I don't is they only offer free tollfree calling on this anonymous tollfree relay service. The regular service tollfree rates seem to vary and hover around 2 cents per minute depending on the number. But the bottom line is I get a second line for absolutely zero in case I need one and it costs me 5 minutes or less of my time per month.
The Actual Configuaration
Last time, this is where the comments came in like "this seems really complicated" and "forget it, I'll just stay with Vonage." But don't despair--it's taken me a while, but here's a quick series of screenshots to help. I am of course, showing you the OBiHAI202, as that's what I have. Below is the Dashboard you get after login at http://www.obitalk.com/obinet. There are actually several ways to manage your OBi, but this one is the safest (most guardrails) to use.
Next, let's look at the configuration for Callcentric (each line) and then the one for VoIPVoIP.
CallCentric Primary Line
It doesn't matter which SP# (Service Provider) number you use. As you can see, you can set services to ring and not-ring on various lines, though services must ring on at least one line--even if they don't have inbound service--don't worry, it won't break anything.
As you can see, this is very minimal from a configuration standpoint:
- Name the Configuration
- Select which phone port will ring
- Select Voicemail if you have it
- Enter your local area code if you want 7-digit dialing 'assistance'
- Enter Service Provider Proxy Server (this is a wizard setup as callcentric.com is consider mainstream.
- Enter your Phone Number
- Enter your Password.
- Save the configuration; enjoy.
Now, the next question is "what about a second line on callcentric?" No problem, the configuration is exactly same except for an extra couple of digits, which is an extension number and a difference password. Here's a screenshot of how mine looks:
Pretty simple, right?
Now for Outbound calls. I am using VoIPVoIP as I mentioned above. This is not a standard configuration, so it's generic in nature and won't have a lot of prefill information. I was however easily able to obtain the required information from the provider. Lastly, note that there are a few more fields here--because this is a generic provider configuration and ObiHai hasn't tested what options are required and work, so they give you all the options. Note here that this isn't currently the primary line for outbound dialing--I still have my GoogleVoice line configured because it's good for free long distance till May 15th, 2014. It's easy to dial using another service with the OBi's double-star (**#, where # is the line number.) codes. For example **21888426XXXX is how you'd dial a tollfree number with the SP2 provider.
Pretty simple, right? It really is pretty easy--the only thing that will really bite you is Outbound connections that are too slow. I recommend your outbound be no less than 512Kbit/sec. Why? Because all the traffic on your network going to the internet eats it up. For most providers 256Kb outbound might get you 180 Kb/sec. . . . . this will be strained by running email, streaming video, facebook uploads, etc., on your home network all at once. You'll have much less to worry about if you go with a faster outbound.
So it's Cheap, but what about Quality?
This is just under 2 hours of usage and a total of 11 packets lost. . . this is .0031% packet loss. I believe that's very good. Sadly the service statistics got reset with an update, so I can't compare GoogleVoice for you, or the inbound service on CallCentric, but this is a very good level of quality.
Making 28 dollars a year a Reality
CallCentric Inbound Service+ E911 outbound Service = 1.50 per month x 12 months per year = 18 dollars per year
VoIPVoIP Outbound Service = 10 Dollars per year (~526 minutes per year toll calls, all tollfree cost 0)
Callwithus Secondary Outbound Line Service = 0 Dollars per year
18 Dollars + 10 Dollars = 28 Dollars per Year.
Does it really work? Well, I traveled some in March, and not counting the weekend, I managed 54 hours of calls on VoIPVoIP, which wasn't my full-time primary line during the month and it cost me a whopping 34.2 cents! :D That's what I call cost-cutting.
Good Luck and Happy Calling!
Note: This article reflects my own personal experience and views and not those of the IBM Corporation.