Ooma is a VOIP company that went online in 2007 and I wrote about it a year ago but didn’t feel it was cost effective at the time.
Well, a few things have changed in a year. They’ve lowered their price from $400 to $249 (including a Scout worth $60 separately) and now are selling them on Amazon and Best Buy (in Los Angeles only).
A little background check on Ooma shows they formed in 2005, is located in Palo Alto and had an initial funding of $26M. I’m hoping that’s enough money for them to stay in business for more than one year, which is how long it will take for me to break even, after switching from Vonage.
I visited my local Best Buy and picked up the black Ooma box and took it home. Regardless of anything else, these guys know how to make things look sexy to a gadget loving geek like me. Everything looked great, starting from the quick install book, to the design of the Hub, and even the packaging. Nice.
Unlike Vonage that gives you a black box that basically looks like a small cable modem, Ooma gives you what they call a Ooma Hub, which looks and works like an answering machine.
The quick install instructions show how to connect Ooma with a cable modem, or DSL setup. The box even comes with the cables and adapters you need, depending on what type of setup you have. I followed the instructions for connecting my cable modem to the hub and activated my account online.
One thing to note here is, you must decide during activation if you want to move your existing phone number over to ooma. If you currently use a land-line, this decision must be made before you can complete your activation and will cost $40. If you are with another VOIP (like Vonage), you don’t have to decide until later, but it will still cost $40 either way.
The Scout is another smaller box that allows you to hookup another phone in a separate room. Although, in theory, you can do this with Vonage, Ooma gives you everything you need to make this work easily.
After everything was connected, I picked up my Panasonic cordless and got my ooma dial-tone. Nice.
Time to do some testing by calling some people. My initial reaction was that the voice quality was good, but not as good as Vonage. There was nothing specifically wrong, but I think there’s a slight difference in quality the same way that sometimes cell phone calls sound a little lower in quality during a call.
One small annoyance is when your call goes through, you hear the ooma “music” which can sometimes drown out the receiver’s voice. I read on the forum that you can ask for this to be turned off, but frankly, they should just get rid of this “feauture” because I doubt anybody wants it or likes it.
What I really liked is the way the hub works exactly like a regular answering machine. When a call comes in, the line 1 indicator lights up red, then you’ll hear the caller, then when they leave a message, the message light comes on. When you get home, you push the play button and listen to your messages. You push the “trash” button to delete the message. If you know anybody that doesn’t like voicemail because of the way that works, this will make them change their minds. No more pushing “1” to play and “3” to delete on your phone. Of course, you can listen to messages that way also.
My next test was to try to FAX something and this is where there was a failure. The FAX machine would try to connect to the recieving FAX and fail. When I did this same test with Vonage, it worked flawlessly.
After reading some forum posts, I decided to try changing the settings in the Hub. More specifically, to change the “Quality of Service” settings. To do that, you go to setup.ooma.com from your browser to access the ooma hub directly. Click on “Advanced” and you’ll see the screen below.
Next to “Upstream Internet Speed,” enter your speed. You can find out what your speed is from a website like speedtest.net. Click “Update” to save your new settings. After making this change, I tried the FAX again without success.
Once again, I went back to the ooma website and finally found the document describing how to send using a FAX machine. They said to use “*99” before the number you are dialing. My HP printer/FAX also allows me to enter a “pause”, which I did. This did the trick and the FAX worked properly. Apparently, this code tells ooma to put the call in a “high quality” or digital mode. Whatever it does, it works.
So at this point, I got everything to work the same way that I had it on my Vonage service, except no monthly fees. Nice.
As with Vonage, you can go to the ooma website, which has a “lounge” where you can listen to your messages (instead of using the hub) and change your settings. As with Vonage, you can have an email sent, and/or a text message sent to your cell phone when a message is left on your phone. You can also set how many rings the caller gets before the voicemail picks up.
One thing that should be noted here is, when you activate your account, you are automatically signed up for their “Premier” service free for 60 days. This service normally costs $13 per month. One of the key features they give you is the ability to screen calls. This is feature is not available on Vonage at any cost. Like a regular answering machine, you can listen to the call, then pickup the phone if you want to take the call. I don’t want to pay per month so I’m not going to have this service available to me after the 60 days is over. Oh well.
A feature available on Vonage is the ability to see a list of all calls (incoming and outgoing) listed in your account online. Ooma currently does not have this feature. So if you need this feature for some type of accounting, you should go to Vonage.
One final nit pick. There was a minor bug with the ooma lounge and Firefox 3 in listening to your message, but this works fine with IE7. [NOTE: Between the time I wrote this after complaining about it on the ooma forum, and right now, this bug has already been fixed. Wow. That was fast.] This shows how new this service is and probably not being used by millions of people yet. They are still working out some kinks on the website. However, their forum and blogs shows they are very dedicated to customer service and this gives me hope that things will be okay in the future.
Ooma also has a referral system where if your friend also buys from a Best Buy in Los Angeles, you and your friend both get a $25 Best Buy gift card. Not bad. I’m sure this won’t be going forever so might as well take advantage of it before it expires.
All in all, so far, my ooma has worked properly and I’m happy with the service. Of course, the best part is no more monthly fees. You can’t beat the price. As long as they don’t go out of business in the next year, I’m golden. Every year after that, I’ll be saving about $250 per year.
I’m just waiting for Verizon or Time Warner Cable to call me to see if they can match the price. What a great phone call that will be.
Salesguy: How much are you paying for phone service?
Salesguy: Excuse me?
Me: I don’t pay anything. It’s free. Are you going to beat that price?
Click. Followed by a dial-tone.
I finally got that call from Time Warner Cable that I’ve been waiting 3 years for. She offered their service for $14 and asked how much Ooma was monthly. I told her it was free and of course, she said she couldn’t beat that price. She also said she was hearing more and more people saying they had Ooma. What a buzz kill for these poor cold callers. I should have recorded this conversation. Damn it.
You didn’t say if you kept a regular phone line connected to the Hub (for backup 911 and other service when the Internet connection goes out, which I bet it does often).
If you did, I suspect that dialling *99 simply forces the hub to use your own phone line for the Fax call, just as it does if you dial 911, thus avoiding the known problem of trying to get the Fax modem signal to go over the Internet connection.
It’s also possible that *99 forces the hub to use a special Fax to IP conversion. If so, Ooma should reveal what they use.
I got rid of my land line back when I got Vonage. Right now, I still have Vonage because it takes 3 weeks to port my old number over to ooma. So, I’m waiting for that to finish before I get rid of my Vonage.
I’m not sure exactly what the *99 does but it did make the FAX work.
Hey, I have an Ooma and am looking for someone to be my “reffer” so we both get $25 to Best Buy. Anyone interested? please send me an email at scout.connor.1 [at] gmail [dot] com
VIOP is definitely the way of the future. It's exciting to see the new technologies being developed. I am an electrical engineering and programmer, and although I don't work in the VOIP field, I am great interested by it.