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After lots of research, I found a way to get “free” phone service that works.

This solution takes some work initially, but if you don’t mind a little sweat, it’s a great way to save some money.

My goals:

  1. Keep my old phone number to forward to voice mail;
  2. Get free/cheap phone service;
  3. Receive calls wherever I am; and
  4. Have access to 911 emergency service from my home phone.

My first goal was to keep my old phone number so that I could forward calls to voicemail with a message giving out my new phone number. Google allows you to port a phone number (for $20), but porting only works with cell phone numbers. I wanted to port my home phone, so this wouldn’t work with my home phone number…unless I first converted it to a cell phone number.

If you want to port your home number, first go to T-Mobile and buy a “T-Mobile SIM Card Activation Kit” for as low as $4.99. I paid $9.99 for mine. You can buy it online, but I chose to go into a store so that they could help me with activation. Tell them you want to port your home phone number to the SIM card. They will take care of setting this up for you while you wait in the store. Then you just have to wait. T-Mobile ended up calling me for additional information, so it took a couple of days for the number to port, but it usually takes about 24 hours. Note that once your number ports, you will no longer be able to access your voicemail from your old carrier. You may also not be able to get calls for a bit until you get the number over to Google.

Next, get your hands on a T-Mobile phone. If you already have a T-Mobile phone, great! If you have a friend with a T-Mobile phone, offer to buy them coffee (somewhere with internet access). Or, for about $20, you can pick up a pre-paid T-Mobile phone. Once you have your T-Mobile phone in hand, open up the back and take out the SIM card (if you bought a new phone there won’t be one in there yet) and replace it with your own.

Replacing the SIM card with your own allows you to receive calls on the number you’ve ported over. This is necessary so that you can next port the number over to Google. If you haven’t done so already, create a Google Voice account and select the option to port your existing cell phone number. Google will call your number to verify that it belongs to you. Now that you’ve verified your number, you can do whatever you want with that T-Mobile phone. Keep it, return it, or give it to a women’s shelter. You don’t need it anymore.

Now that you have a Google number, you can get home phone service for “free.” Google may charge for US calls in the future, but for now they are free. I actually set up a second Google number for this purpose, and the above exercise was solely so that I could give out forwarding information when someone called my old number.

With a Google Voice number, you can forward calls to any phone you want to. I only forward my main Google Voice number to my cell phone since it already rings at home on my Obi. Now I never miss a call!

So, how do you start getting your Google number to ring to your house? I chose the cheapest option of going to Amazon.com and buying an Obi110. Obihai makes two different Obi’s. You want the 110 if 911 service is important to you. Since Google does not provide 911 service, you need a device, like the Obi110, that allows you to set up two VoIP (Voice over IP) services.

The Obi110 is simple to set up. Plug it into your modem, and your phone into the Obi110, and go to www.obitalk.com to create an account and register your Obi110. If you get stuck, you can call their very helpful technical support at: (408) 634-5904.

While you’re still in www.obitalk.com, be sure to also set up a local area code so that you don’t have to enter an area code for local calls.

Now, to get 911 Service. Go to www.callcentric.com and register for a paid account. All you will need to get is a “Pay Per Call” account. There’s no monthly call fee, but you do pay a monthly fee for 911 service. It’s $3 for the first month, and $1.50/month after that. You can pay into your account in increments of $5, $10, $20, $30, $40, $50, $80, or $100 and then CallCentric auto-bills each month from the remaining balance. I put enough in there for about one year.

Now go back to www.obitalk.com and add CallCentric as your second service provider. Obihai makes it easy to set up CallCentric as an emergency 911 service. Keep Google as your primary service provider, and set CallCentric to “Use This Service For Emergency 911 Calls.”

That’s it! For an initial investment of about $100, and a monthly fee of $1.50, I have free calls from home. I must note that I have noticed some echo on the phone line, but it’s not all the time. I’ve also had a couple of dropped calls, but that used to happen with my $40/month plan as well. But, hey, did I mention that it’s FREE?!

What do you think? Is it worth the work? I’d love to hear from someone with the Ooma ($200 device similar to the $50 Obi110).