Have a phone, want to do Hangouts, but no internet connection? :)

Half an hour ago (now it’s few days ago), I’ve finished a conference call. It was not an ordinary conference call, though, I was on a train – and while we do have some internet connection here, it is not sufficient to do any VoIP communication, much less a Hangouts call. So before I boarded the train, I was thinking if there is a way to connect myself to the call.

Turns out that if there’s is a will, there’s always a way.

Eventually, I was presented with three challenges to solve:

1. Find a service that allows me to call into the Hangouts conference call

That was actually quite easy, considering the fact that I tripped over the service a while ago. It is called UberConference and it allows you (among other things) to connect to a Hangouts conference call through a US phone number. Good thing is that the service itself is absolutely free; you can just select “UberConference” in the Hangouts “app store” or “toolbox” or however they call it.

Then, a new phone call will appear in the conference and you can just connect by dialing a phone number and entering PIN that you’re provided. It had just this one catch: it is a US phone number. (At the time of writing, I haven’t found a Czech service that offers this.)

2. Find a way to call a US phone number cheaply from a Czech phone number

A regular mobile phone call to America (or any foreign country whatsoever) is dangerous, as it is pricey as hell. For that we usually have a cure: any VoIP service can help you with cheap US calls, and we have a lot of these in the Czech Republic! I could even use Google itself. But maybe you already know that there’s a small catch with this approach: VoIP calls are usually initiated from the Internet. And if I had stable Internet connection, I wouldn’t need this whole “work-around”, right?

A thought arose:

3. Is there a way to dial a VoIP service?

Turns out there is a way. A service exists that acts as a bridge between the regular landline phone network and VoIP networks, and its name is SIPBroker. There are over 20 countries where SIPBroker has PSTN access numbers (phone numbers) which allow you to connect to any VoIP service they have in their database.

I am using Odorik.cz, a great & cheap Czech VoIP provider, and in their account administration, one can find (after a rather long search) a way to connect to their phone exchange right through SIPBroker. Also, Odorik offers a multitude of ways to call through their service – for example if you need to call from a phone booth, they offer a free access number accessible from all landlines in the Czech Republic. It is much, much cheaper than a typical call in the phone booth. On that phone call, you can clearly see that Odorik uses a numerical PIN for authentication, which is what I used to my advantage in this procedure.

The final instruction list is this:

  1. start a Hangouts conference call (someone else might start it as well)
  2. add a UberConference tool to the call
  3. get the phone number & PIN to call to (your friend can send them to you through a text. The numbers remain the same when the conference call is initiated by the same person.)
  4. call a SIPBroker PSTN access number (the one in Prague is working very well)
  5. enter the Odorik number of service & its phone exchange number (95538223004#)
  6. enter your PIN when asked
  7. dial the UberConference phone number including the international prefix (00 1 / 00 420, for example), end with a #
  8. enter conference PIN when asked

At the end of the day, I’ve created the following chain: my phone (CZ) <–> SIPBroker (Prague, CZ) <–> “switchboard” of Odorik.cz (CZ) <–> UberConference (USA) <–> Hangouts conference call (Czech participants)

What does it cost?

The SIPBroker access number is a typical landline number. The call to USA through Odorik cost 0.30 Kč/min. UberConference is free, as well as Hangouts. With an unlimited voice plan, the total price is 0.30 Kč/min, and it could be even free, had I found a VoIP service with free US calls.

And how’s the quality?

The quality is comparable to a typical phone call – and it won’t be better, since the voice travels across two continents, twice. Therefore, a considerable delay in voice transmission occurs; in my case, the call had a “lag” of 4 seconds. (!)

In the case of a call like this, a good moderation of the call is a must. When I started speaking, everyone else needed to stop, since the delay was so damn high and the response wouldn’t get to me for another four seconds. It is therefore desirable to hand over after you’re finished talking - to let others know that they can proceed. Kinda like with walkie-talkies.

That’s why I would be glad for a Czech service offering something similar, but I couldn’t find one in time. Nevertheless, if the only thing you have is your phone, this can help you a LOT in taking a conference call through Hangouts, if you have no other option.

Actually, when I think about it… wouldn’t it be easier to make a conference call over GSM? :-) See you next time!