Oh no, if you’ve been reading this blog for a long time I already know what you are thinking - here we go, switching VOIP providers yet again. Don’t worry, Flowroute continues to be my SIP provider of choice (they are, quite simply, awesome).

No, this round was prompted by a hardware failure when our 5 year old Linksys PAP2TNA bit the dust. A couple of days ago my wife went to use the phone - so she hit the Talk button to take it off-hook, but then realized she needed some additional information so hung up. The ATA was making a dial-tone, because I could hear it from across the room. Two minutes later she hit the Talk button again, and got… silence. No dial-tone, just nothing.

Hmmm, that’s weird - so I go and take a look at the Linksys ATA and find it boot-looping. The power LED would flash green, the LAN LED would flash green, then the power LED would go red and it would reboot itself. I cycled the power, even left it unplugged for the day, but it appears that it decided to randomly fry itself.

Well, time for a new ATA. I had heard about Obihai’s affordable ATAs and found that the local Fry’s had an OBi100 in stock for around $40. The OBi100 is a very basic model, supporting just a single POTS line, but that’s all we need.

OBi devices have two modes of configuration - you can browse directly to the device on your local network to configure services, or auto-provision through the ObiTalk website. Although I’m familiar enough with SIP configuration that I don’t mind direct device config, I decided to provision it via ObiTalk.

Flowroute isn’t one of Obihai’s “certified” providers, but it’s just SIP and I found a config guide at Flowroute’s website. The config guide was for direct device config, but the fields are the same, so it was easy enough to provision.

And it worked! Well, actually it only sort of worked. I could make outbound calls via Flowroute, but inbound calls to my DID would just result in a busy signal. At this point, I wasn’t sure if it was something in the SIP negotiation preventing Flowroute from routing my DID, or something in the OBi device, or just something I screwed up in the config.

So, I gave up on ObiTalk - I deleted my device from ObiTalk, reset the OBi device to factory defaults, and then started manual SIP configuration. Guess what? It worked - fully! Both inbound and outbound calls were working fine.

At this point, I still wasn’t sure where the problem was - all the possibilities were still, well, possibilities. So this morning I opened a support case with Flowroute. Realize that I’m about as small potatoes of a customer that Flowroute can have - I give them just a couple of bucks a month for DID, E911, and per-minute usage. Yet, each time I’ve opened a support case they have been responsive, thorough, and just plain fantastic.

Today was no exception, with the support person providing the key information that they have seen issues on OBi devices where X_InboundCallRoute is misconfigured. The result of this is that everything is great on the Flowroute end, but the OBi device doesn’t know what to do with the call and gives a busy signal. She suggested making sure the value for this was “ph”. That seemed to ring a bell - I remember noticing that my manual configuration had this value, but the provisioned value from ObiTalk did not.

I thanked Flowroute support, but they didn’t stop there - they gave me instructions on doing a tcpdump so that if I wasn’t able to get it to work from ObiTalk, they could look at the SIP conversation to debug it. I was stunned! I’ve worked with dozens and dozens of vendors and providers over the years, and given several of them tcpdumps which they had no clue what to do with. In contrast, Flowroute was willing to dig this deep, into a problem for which I already had a workaround. That’s pretty cool. I can think of a few companies who could learn from this.

I am happy to report that after re-provisioning my Obi100 from ObiTalk, and then going into the advanced settings to reset X_InboundCallRoute, I have a fully working, auto-provisioned device! It’s pretty annoying that ObiTalk corrupts, for some unknown reason, the correct value and overwrites it with a wrong one. I don’t know why they do this, but it nearly resulted in me returning my OBi100 to the store for a refund.

Flowroute - thanks again for your help and support in getting this fully working!

And for anyone reading this - if you are paying your phone company, cable company, or VOIP provider more than $5 a month for phone service you are getting seriously ripped off. Cancel that, pick up an OBi100 for $40, and go set up an account at Flowroute. They will provision a DID instantly in the area code of your choosing, and you’ll be up and running pretty darn quick. By using auto-provisioning through ObiTalk and following the config guide mentioned previously, you don’t have to know anything about SIP or configuring an ATA to get up and running.

Manually configuring a SIP device is not a particular fun task if you aren’t familiar with telephony - there are literally hundreds of configuration options, and it’s not always obvious what you are supposed to do. The config guide mentioned above will walk you through manual configuration through the device wizard on the OBi, so it’s not that hard, but some people might find doing it all through ObiTalk attractive (and perhaps want the additional features it provides as well).

I don’t know if Flowroute can port existing numbers, but we switched to bouncing through a Google Voice number several years ago, so our friends+family know to use that number, not the ANI (CallerID) number they see when we call them.

One final note - Obihai used to work directly with Google Voice, but Google disabled that service. Obihai is doing an incredibly horrible job of getting the word out, as all of their web pages still say that this is a feature of the device - certainly they sell more devices with this false claim in their advertising, but I wonder how many get returned solely because of it. At any rate, it’s yet another case of Google killing off a useful service, but I can see how they weren’t making any money off it. Update 2015-02-16: Google Voice through Obihai might be available again, according to what I read at the ObiTalk site, but I haven’t tried it to validate, as it requires flashing a special firmware on the Obihai and what I have is already working…