Jan Fandrianto Strikes Again with the OBi110
Obihai Technology, a tiny Cupertino start-up, this month brought to market its first product, the OBi110 — an unassuming $70 box with blinky lights that may well prove to be the most disruptive telephony device to come along in a decade.
The OBi110 is the physical hub in a multi-layered communications model the company believes can revolutionize the way consumers use their mobile, Internet and fixed-line telephony services, bringing emerging social networking behaviors together with maturing Voice over IP (VoIP) technology to create total communication freedom at the personal level.
I own or have owned at least one of all three generations of products generated by Jan Fandrianto and his team: the Cisco ATA-186, various Sipura/Linksys units (including the SPA-3000, which I supported during the Voxilla days), and now the OBi110, the next generation in analog telephone devices.
While I haven’t played with the OBi110 as much as I’d like, it did not take me long to see this is a refinement of the ideas behind the SPA-3000, but it offers so much more.
One of the features of the SPA-3000 was the ability to dial in via a VoIP provider and “bridge” to a analog telephone line. You could also go the other way. While the OBi110 can do these things, you can also bridge to a different VoIP provider as well (i.e. the device supports two different Internet telephony service providers (ITSPs)).
The device provides a configurable auto-attendant, which can be configured to answer only for “trusted” endpoints (based on CallerID) and/or require a PIN to be entered. From there, calls can made via either the PSTN line or any of the VoIP services you’ve configured.
Perhaps the best feature of the OBi110 has little to do with the hardware itself but with the service that it includes. When you plug into the network, it registers with OBiTALK servers–with no configuration on the end user’s part. It works “out of the box.” The device has a unique telephone number assigned to it–it’s printed on the bottom of the device. Any customer with an OBi110 can call any other OBi110 using their OBiTALK number.
Aside from your OBi devices, you can also connect to OBtTALK via a VoIP client on your PC. Obihai provides the OBiAPP on Windows that acts as a sort of middleman between a traditional VoIP client (say Counterpath’s X-Lite) and the OBiTALK service. I believe the user experience would be better overall if they just released their own Windows (and Mac) VoIP client. This seems to be a rather convoluted setup. Obihai is producing their own VoIP client for iOS and Android devices soon.
OBiTALK also provides for a concept called a “Circle of Trust.” Essentially it makes it easier for a group of people to use each other’s devices to take advantage of landlines or whatever ITSPs each device has configured. For example, if I was part of a circle of trust with people in The Netherlands, I could make a VoIP call that goes out my friend’s PSTN line, or s/he could make a VoIP call that goes out my PSTN or VoIP line.
You can configure your circle of trust (and other trusted endpoints) from the OBiTALK site and it will configure your device for you. It also sets up speed dials for the different endpoints you have and are in your circle of trust. I actually wish you could configure more features from the OBiTALK site (say, the ITSPs you want to use) and have the device somewhat provisioned entirely from OBiTALK, further masking the complexity.
If you don’t trust Obihai, you can hand configure all of this yourself, of course, and the device can be configured however you’d like. If you’ve spent any time with the old Sipura devices, the web interface should look a bit familiar, but it has been improved also, making it real easy to see what settings are at their defaults as well as provide a way to reset the parameter to the default setting. Unfortunately, the settings in some cases are complicated. That is the nature of these devices, however. They provide a lot of power, but you have to know what you are doing to make it do exactly what you want.
All in all, if you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person and you want to more easily create your own mix of VoIP and PSTN services that works for you, the OBi110 is the device you want to look at. The team behind it as a history of making great products and evolving them as the market changes. You can buy the OBi110 Voice Service Bridge and Terminal Adapter from Amazon.com (affiliate link), but during the week of Thanksgiving, you’ll be able to buy two OBi110s through amazon.com shipped to the same address for $99.95!