As a VoIP guy I’d heard of Obihai Technology and seen their products online but had never had the opportunity to sit down and play with any of their range of products. While at ITExpo in Las Vegas in August I met Sherman Scholten, VP of Sales & Marketing for Obihai, and had an opportunity to look at their range of ATAs and new IP Phones and excitedly left with an OBi 200 ATA to have a play with when I got home. What’s an ATA? It’s an Analogue Telephone Adapter, a device to connect a regular analogue telephone to a VoIP provider for making and receiving calls.
Obihai Technology was formed by Jan Fandrianto and Sam Sin, both of whom are true pioneers in the VoIP space. What’s their background you might ask? Together they built the first mass market ATAs in the 90s when VoIP was in its infancy, and sold their company to Cisco who launched these as the Cisco ATA-186 and ATA-188 ATAs. Both then left Cisco and formed Sipura Technology, starting again building new voice products, and launching new Sipura branded products including the SPA2000 and SPA3000 ATAs onto the market. Like a story repeating itself, they once again sold their company to Cisco where they stayed, designing the Linksys/Cisco branded SPA2102, SPA3102 and SPA921/2 and SPA941/2 and SPA500 series IP phones which pretty much set the benchmark in the VoIP space for many years. Both left Cisco in 2010 and formed Obihai, launching their first products in the market not long after.
So what makes the Obihai products so different from others? The answer is simple – lots!
Like any ATA the basic functionality of plugging in an analogue phone and configuring a VoIP provider is there. Unlike many other products which only allow a single VoIP provider, the OBi 200 allows up to 4 individual VoIP provider accounts to be configured, all of which can be used for inbound and outbound calling. Each account can be accessed with a prefix for outbound calling, or can be integrated into the dial plan to make this fully seamless. All Obihai products also feature Google approved Google Voice support, meaning if you have a Google Voice account this device can be fully integrated for both inbound and outbound calling. Each Obi device also comes with it’s own unique OBiTALK number, which allows free calling between OBi devices without requiring an account with a VoIP provider.
The OBi 200 features a single USB port on the back which can be used for the OBiWiFi (WiFi), OBiBT (Bluetooth) or OBiLINE adapters. The WiFi adapter lets the OBi200 connect to the internet using your WiFi connection, whereas the Bluetooth adapter lets you pair your Bluetooth capable mobile phone with the OBi ATA and lets you use your mobile phone to make and receive calls via your Obihai ATA. The OBiLINE adapter allows you to connect regular analogue POTS line to the OBi device for inbound and outbound calling. Obihai have a number of different models, each with some slightly different features and ports.
OBi 200 featuring the OBiWiFi adapter
If you thought having Bluetooth capabilities was great then the OBiON app for both Android and Apple iOS allows you to make calls from the app on your mobile phone and route these via your OBi device from anywhere in the world. I could stop there, but I won’t, because I haven’t yet covered the cool stuff!
The OBi 200 web interface is very extensive, allowing every aspect of the device to be configured. For somebody like myself who’s used Linksys/Cisco SPA hardware extensively, I felt at home. With a huge number of advanced SIP configuration options available this device should not suffer any incompatibility issues which can still occur in the SIP world. If you’re just configuring a single device, then the web interface may be sufficient – if you’ve got multiple devices then the remote provisioning capabilities really make the Obihai products stand out from the competition. Full XML based provisioning with support for DHCP options 66,150, 159, 160 and 161 is included, but it’s the OBiTALK portal that really makes the Obihai products stand out from the competition.
So what exactly is the OBiTALK portal? It’s a cloud based portal that allows you to configure one or more Obihai devices from the web, and it is available for both individuals and VoIP service providers. Traditionally to manage multiple devices you’ve had to either ensure you had access to a network via a port forward (which introduces security issues), a VPN, or by creating your own server to manage provisioning files for each device. The OBiTALK portal allows you to configure the common account settings of the device and makes managing devices that may be at remote locations far easier. Changes made in the OBiTALK portal are immediately updated in the OBi device. More advanced settings such as dial tones and network settings can’t be configured from the portal, and need to be configured either via the web interface or using a XML based configuration file.
Having a cloud based portal poses the question of what should happen if Obihai were to go bust – would the device still work? Moving configuration to the cloud is something many companies are doing, and it’s something that does need to be considered whenever you’re purchasing a device that has this sort of functionality. The good news with Obihai is that if by some chance this did happen you’d still have full control over the ATA and be able to fully configure all the settings locally or via XML provisioning, but would probably lose the ability to call directly between devices, and possibly the Google Voice functionality depending on exactly how this is integrated.
In terms of other technical features the OBi 200 supports G.711a, G711u, G729, G726-32 and iLBC voice codecs along with T.38 support for fax over VoIP. It also supports setting idle and connect polarity settings to forward or reverse which will ensure accurate call connection and disconnection if the device is being used with a PBX.
So what is their not to like about the product? The simple answer is not a lot. One minor annoyance was the advertising and OBi Amazon Affiliate links on the OBiTALK page, but that’s not something that affects the performance of the device in any way.
It would be nice to to able to configure more features of the device from the OBiTALK portal, but once again this isn’t a limitation, but merely something that would be nice to have. EDIT: There is an Expert Mode setting within the OBiTALK portal that gives access to every setting in the device, which is something I missed when initially playing with the device. By default only basic settings are shown. With it’s current feature set, Obihai really have set the benchmark for an ATA.
*Obihai products are not currently distributed in NZ, but are available in Australia or from Obihai directly on Amazon. If ordering from Amazon you’ll get 12V multi voltage plug pack, but with US pins, so will need to source a 1A 12VDC plug pack locally, or use an adapter.
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