Monday, January 31, 2011

Google Voice and free calls Overseas - News for iPhone and iPad Users

Thanks to an alert reader from South Florida, Scott Nemeroff, I just learned about a way for iPhone and iPad users to make free Google Voice calls while overseas.

In a previous post, I outlined a way for Android smartphone users to freely make and receive Google Voice calls while overseas, whereas iPhone and iPad users could only receive Google Voice calls while overseas.

This alternative approach to Google Voice integration has just been released by Obihai. The catch is that the approach is not entirely free. You must purchase a $49.99 device from Obihai, their OBi110 Voice Service Bridge and Terminal Adapter.

Along with their device, ObiHai provides a free software app called Obion for the iPhone, iPad, and Android smartphones.  Obion apparently allow users to freely make and receive calls via Google Voice.  Obion can be downloaded for free from your smartphone app marketplace, but it will not work with Google Voice unless you have purchased and configured the OBi110 device!

I haven't used the OBi110 device, so I can't recommend it at this time.  If any readers do have the OBi110 device, I would love to hear from them.  I am particularly interested in reports on how the Obion smartphone apps work with Google Voice.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Google Voice, Sipgate, and free calls Overseas

In my last post, I briefly mentioned how I used the Sipgate VOIP service and softphone to work around a problem I was having with Google Chat.

However, the real value of Sipgate is it will enable you to receive Google Voice calls when you are overseas while using a smartphone (e.g. Android, iPhone, Blackberry) at no charge!  In the case of an Android phone,  it will also enable you to make free calls from overseas to the US (with an additional free app)!

You don't need Sipgate when you are overseas if you just want to make and receive phone calls on a computer. Google Voice alone will do that.

Setting up Sipgate and adding it to Google Voice

Here is a brief video tutorial on how to create and configure a Sipgate account, download your Sipgate soft-phone, and link your new SipGate number to your Google Voice account.

Sipgate has a free plan that includes a phone number in the US along with unlimited incoming calls and 60 minutes of outgoing calls.  Skype will also provide you with phone number with unlimited free incoming calls, but it will cost you $60 a year for the number.

After you have done completed the steps outlined in the video, you are almost ready to start receiving calls on your smartphone.

Receive free calls from the US on your iPhone

If you have an iPhone, the last step is to download and configure the free native Sipgate client from the iPhone App market.  Now you are ready to receive incoming Google Voice calls on your iPhone.

Receive free calls from the US on your Android phone

If you have an Android phone, you will  need to use a different app. Sipgate currently doesn't have a client for Android, or Blackberry for that matter.

I use what seems to be the most popular Android SIP client app, SipDroid, which is freely available from the Android Marketplace.  If you do install SipDroid,  please read this post so you can avoid a nasty  interaction between Google Voice and SipDroid.

SipDroid is easily configured to log into your Sipgate account, so that SipDroid will get all your incoming SipGate calls. Now your Android phone is ready to receive incoming Google Voice calls no matter  where you are.

Making free calls to the US on your Android phone!

If you have an Android phone we are not finished! That is if you also want to make free calls to the US while you are overseas. We need just one more app. It is GV Callback ,  also available for free from the Android Marketplace.  However, you can earn some good karma by purchasing the "Donate Version" of the app for $2.99. ;-)

GV Callback does what it's names says.  When you call a number, it will give you the option to initiate a Google Voice callback.  If you are overseas and you are calling the US, you obviously  want to choose this option.  When you receive the callback from Google Voice you can then call any US number at no charge.  The fact that you are overseas is irrelevant to Google Voice, because it is dealing with a US number provided by Sipgate.

Avoiding international roaming charges

Another important benefit of this setup is that you can avoid exorbitant roaming charges by placing a cheap local prepaid simcard in your phone when you arrive in another country.  You avoid the usual disadvantage of changing your simcard, since people who want to reach you from the US don't need to know the phone number associated with your simcard.  A call to your Google Voice number will reach you no matter what simcard is in your phone.

Calling countries other than the US

One last note, calls to countries other than the US are not free with Google Voice and this setup doesn't change that fact.

However, I have done some price comparisons and both Sipgate and Google Voice offer some of the best rates for international VOIP calls.  For example, in some cases Skype will charge you 4 times the rate of Google Voice or SipGate.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Google Voice, and the case of the missing callbacks

I have recently fallen in love with Google Voice.  Being a long-time user of Skype, I was concerned about stability and voice quality, but the advantages of Google Voice seemed to good to ignore.

Very soon, I found myself using Google Voice almost exclusively for making and receiving calls when I am sitting in front of my computer.  BTW, the international call rates with Google Voice are much cheaper than Skype.

A few weeks ago, an annoying problem cropped up.  Mysteriously,  I stopped getting calls on Google Chat.  This meant that I could neither receive Google Voice calls in my browser, nor could I make Google voice calls on my computer without involving another device.

My immediate workaround was to install a Sip client on my computer called Sipgate , so I could continue to receive and make calls solely on my computer (More on Sipgate and Google Voice in another post).

Being both curious and frustrated, I searched the Google Voice forums to solve the mystery of my missing Google Chat callbacks. I got a few responses, but none of them helped.  Fortunately, I stumbled across a blog by Justin Juberti, a Google Voice developer and asked for his assistance.

Justin did some investigating into my case and informed me that an instance of Asterisk (a software PBX) was logging into my Google Chat account and had given itself a higher priority than the standard Google Chat client, thereby intercepting all my incoming Google Chat voice calls.  I was very lucky Justin did that, because there is no straightforward way to gather that information as a mere user of Google Voice and Chat sevices.

However, I was mystified at first, because I hadn't used Asterisk in over 2 years. I had no idea where this instance of Asterisk could be.

Then I remembered a brief software dialog when I installed the application SipDroid on my Android phone.  SipDroid is a popular open source SIP client for Android phones. During the installation process, SipDroid automatically created an account  for me on, which provides free hosting of Trixbox/Asterisk.

I logged into the account that SipDroid had created for me and voila!  The mystery was solved.

I discovered that SipDrioid had generated a "trunk" that was configured to stay logged into my Google Chat account.  I looked at the call history of the trunk and I saw where all my missing Google Chat callbacks had gone.

I deleted the trunk and suddenly Google Chat callbacks worked again!  BTW, has a straightforward interface for basic tasks, so finding and deleting the trunk was very easy to do.

I am keeping my account, but I don't see any reason to involve Asterisk into the Google Voice mix. At least for now.

I have posted this information on the Google Voice forums, so other people can avoid my pain.

The silver lining out of this problem was discovering SipGate,  a valuable accessory for your Google Voice toolkit which I will write about soon.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lured to the Dark Side .....

After years of resistance, I have reluctantly begun to embrace the Mac platform.  My primary motivation is the of lure of lucre with iOS development in general and developing with the Xcode toolset in particular.

As an unapologetic open-source bigot, I have been frequently incensed by the corporate behavior of Apple under the stewardship of Steve Jobs.  IMHO, the Apple corporate culture is the antithesis of the values dear to open source advocates.  Everything is closed as it possibly can be with Apple.

Plus, there is the Apple approach to intellectual property that makes companies like Microsoft positively beneficent.  This goes back to their galling litigation against Microsoft for their supposed copyright infringement with Windows, when Apple took all of their ideas for their UI from Xerox.

Enough ranting about Apple.  Not surprisingly, I find myself enjoying the Mac interface. However, coming from Linux, I was missing Gnome workspaces until I discovered the Mac Expose/Spaces plugin and I became a very happy camper.

I love knowing that this lovely interface is running on top of a real OS, BSD, and that I can always drop down into a terminal window with a bash shell.

Now my biggest problem with the latest Mac OS is with Java.  Running 64 bit, I am surprised at how slow tools like Eclipse are on my new Mac Server.  I haven't done any timings, but my 3 year old laptop running Ubuntu 10.4 seems a bit friskier for Java.

Maybe the problem will be solved with some tweaking.  I am just a Mac newbie.