on November 12, 2008
I have been a Vonage customer for three years and suffered through all of their growing pains. At $25 a month though for unlimited service I thought I would check to see what other options were available and decided on giving Ooma a try.
The Ooma hardware is well designed, with thoughtful touches like a built in speaker for listening to voicemail and a brightness control so that you can turn down the brightness of the unit in a bedroom. The hardware comes wonderfully packaged like a product from Apple and includes just about any of the cords you might need to get everything connected with your existing service.
Setup was quite easy. You have to get online and activate the Ooma Hub unit by entering the MAC address on the bottom of the unit and telling Ooma what kind of service setup you are doing, such as whether you will use Ooma with an existing line, get a new phone number, etc. They don't even need your credit card and you are activated.
If you are getting a new phone number then you are essentially done at this point. You get a new phone number to use, and you connect the Ooma hub to your home network. Ooma recommends you put the Ooma hub between your Cable or DSL modem and your home router (if you have one). The reason for this is that it allows the Ooma unit to manage your outbound internet traffic and make sure your phone calls are optimized ahead of other traffic, so that phone calls always have priority, sound good and work properly.
If you have a more sophisticated home network router than can do traffic shaping, recognition of IP audio, etc (some of the top of the line D-Link models have these "QoS" features built in) then you can simply plug the Ooma hub into such a router and get good results.
After plugging in the Ooma to your home network you simply connect a home phone to the Ooma unit and you are pretty much ready to go. There is an "ooma music" dial tone you will hear when you make or receive a call. This is one of the ways Ooma lets you and others know you are using their system and is sort of a free advertising that lets people know you are using this service.
You can plug the Ooma hub back in to one of your home wall jacks and then connect the Ooma scout unit in to another jack in the house so that you can use a 2nd phone there. The scout can even be configured to only ring on a 2nd line, have it's own voicemail, etc... this is possible because the Ooma hub has a built in DSL network system in it that allows it to communicate with the scout units over your home phone wiring. This is very sophisticated compared to other VoIP vendor offerings. You can add up to about 20 scouts on the system and keep adding lines, etc, but obviously there are bandwidth and practical limits that you might run into in such a scenario.
If you are porting a number things get a bit more complicated. After indicating I wanted to port my number I was informed on their website that I needed to call them to complete the porting process. The agent I reached was a bit confused and kept insisting I should just use my existing phone service with Ooma. About the 3rd time of telling him I just wanted to get my number ported he got the paperwork started up. They email you some forms a few days after activation that you need to fill out and fax in to get your number ported, which takes a few weeks. In the interim you are assigned a temporary number to use and you can plug your existing line into the Ooma hub and it will take your inbound calls and route them through the Ooma system. There is a $40 charge for porting your existing number but Ooma will waive this fee if you sign up for the $99 premier service that includes a 2nd phone number plus additional features. Ooma advertises that you can keep your original home service as a backup line, so that your phone works even if the Internet is down, but in my experience Internet service is at least as reliable as my old school home phone line. Anyways, it's your choice.
In my case I elected to port my number, but didn't connect my old line to the Ooma Hub (as the agent insisted I do), I simply forwarded the number to the temporary phone number that Ooma assigned to me during the porting process.
Ooma offers a full suite of software features such as "simulring" (ring a cell or 2nd line at the same time your Ooma phone is ringing), magical "2nd phone line" from another phone on the system when the 1st line is busy, etc. You can control your entire Ooma system from the "Ooma Lounge" which is basically a web page you can access from anywhere that lets you control your Ooma system, features, additional numbers, caller ID, etc. You can learn a lot more about these features on Ooma's website so I won't go into them in great detail since this review is long as it is.
Sound quality on the Ooma is very very good. My mom who is used to hearing me talk on my Vonage line immediately noticed how much better the service was. Sound quality should be excellent provided you connect the Ooma equipment properly.
I would strongly recommend this service to anyone with even a basic technical ability. If you simply need the "basics" of phone service such as call waiting, caller ID and voicemail, Ooma will be a one time purchase. Their premium services are also very nice and reasonable at only $99 a year (sure beats paying Vonage $300 a year for similar features).
One question that keeps coming up is how Ooma can make money with this model. The answer is that Ooma makes money when you buy the system hardware and also makes money when you subscribe to the $99 premium service. There's no saying that they won't increase the price of the premium services at some time in the future. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ooma come up with new tempting hardware offers down the road such as better "scout" and "hub" units that offer features such as video calling between Ooma subscribers.
I am a voice over IP engineer and can certainly recommend the Ooma service, it's a great option compared to spending $30-$60 a month for basic phone service with your local phone company. Ooma supports E-911 for emergency calling, and if you are really worried about having a phone line during a power outage simply connect your cable modem, Ooma Hub and cordless phone system to a UPS Battery Back UP and you will have power for at least an hour during a power loss since all those devices will be running on battery.
I highly recommend this product and the model that Ooma are starting to put together to move beyond the "bell head" phone system that we all grew up with.
I wanted to provide an update to my review and answer a few additional questions. My number port was completed by Ooma almost exactly three weeks after the request which is fantastic. When the porting request is completed you start to log into the Ooma Lounge with your "real" phone number versus the temporary one that Ooma assigns to you.
I had no issues setting up my 2nd line either. Simply select from available numbers in the area code of your choice and tell Ooma how you want the call handled when it comes in (if you want it to ring to a particular hub/scout, have its own voicemail, etc). Now on to a few questions and/or mis-information I have seen about the Ooma system.
1. I have seen a lot of posts comparing Ooma to Magic Jack. There is no comparison. Magic Jack is a USB adapter that requires a PC running 24/7 to handle your phone calls. PC crashes, no phone. Want multiple lines/scouts... too bad. The Magic Jack is a toy compared to Ooma. Additionally Ooma's basic features are far superior to Magic Jack and requires NO FEES! With Magic Jack you do have to pay annual fees for unlimited calling. So Ooma will actually be cheaper in the long run for most users!
2. I have also seen reviews indicating that Ooma works well, but choppy voice is experienced when using the Internet. This is caused by incorrect installation of the Ooma hardware. Ooma hub must be installed BETWEEN your cable modem and your home router or it cannot prioritize your telephone calls for good quality! The only exception is if you have a home router that prioritizes your voice traffic, such as some higher end models. If in doubt you must put the Ooma directly behind your Cable or DSL modem to get the optimum performance!
3. I have also seen people comment that you can't use multiple phones with the Ooma system. This is only partially correct. If you want to use scouts and the features they offer (have a 2nd or 3rd number ring in to a scout, etc) then yes, you would need a scout for each phone you want to use with Ooma. However, if you just want a "shared line" (like regular home telephone service) then you can simply plug your Ooma Hub into your home phone jack and plug in as many other phones as you want. This will prevent some of the advanced features from working, but will basically work like a Vonage system, etc. Obviously many people have multiple handset wireless systems these days so they will just plug their wireless base station into the Ooma Hub and use scouts for other phones.
4. Someone asked me the question if I work for Ooma since I've commented in many reviews. The answer is no, I don't work for Ooma but I am a very satisfied customer and a voice over IP engineer with 13 years of industry experience. Ooma is the best residential voice over IP system I've ever seen and I very much would like them to succeed and offer their superior service for decades to come. The only way this will happen is with strong word of mouth advertising from professionals such as myself!
There have been numerous questions and a lot of confusion about "how to wire" the Ooma unit with multiple phones in the home. I will try to address that here. The Ooma Hub has two separate jacks on it, one for connection to a primary telephone and a 2nd one for connection to your home phone wiring. There's no reason you can't take the primary phone jack and split it to as many phones in your home as you like. However, be aware that if you do this you will be unable to use Scout units with those phones for their own phone line, voice mail, and other special Ooma features. Personally I take the Ooma Hub to my home fax/printer, then back out to my primary home telephone. I then connect the 2nd jack on my Ooma Hub to my home phone wiring and then put the scout at another wall jack elsewhere in the home.
The bottom line is that if you want to use the Scout units (remember one is included with the system) then ALL phones that need their own line connection will need a scout at the wall jack and you will need to wire the Hub to your home wiring as described above. (you could actually re-wire all of the jacks in your house and put the scout feed on some of them and the hub on others but that is FAR beyond the scope of this review). If you do not want to use the scout units, then you can simply split the phone jack out of the hub (they even give you a splitter) and plug it back into your home wiring, then use as many additional telephones, just like regular home phone service.
Two things I've seen posted about Ooma are disingenous. I wanted to comment briefly about them.
1. Ooma has limit on number of minutes. Yes, in the fine print, Ooma says there is a 3000 minute a month limit. However, it's worth noting that Ooma has never cut anyone off for using too many minutes. The whole point of limiting number of minutes is to prevent telemarketers or other high volume businesses from abusing the Ooma service.
2. Ooma isn't free. The following Ooma features are "free". Unlimited local and long distance calls one one phone line. Caller ID and Call Waiting with Caller ID. Review of phone lines online. Voicemail. The following features command a $99 per year premium per additional line for the Ooma Premium phone service;
a. Simulring (ring another phone along with your Ooma line)
b. Magic 2nd line (automatically access extra line with a phone from another scout or hub on the Ooma system when 1st line is busy)
c. Blacklists (join or create custom reject lists for telemarketers, etc)
d. 2nd phone number
e. 3 way conferencing
f. Message Screening
g. Voicemail forwarding (to email, etc)
h. Custom Ringers
And a few other features. Are these features great? Yes. Are they worth $99 a year? Yes. Do you need them to enjoy great FREE service with Ooma which still includes better features than you get from the phone company for $45 a monthg? NO!
If you don't need these additional features then according to the 'fine print', Ooma is no charge for a period of at least three years.
/// Update 3 - 10.34.09
The new Ooma Telo equipment is out, and apparently Ooma is now charing $11 per year after the 1st year to cover taxes and regulatory fees for new subscribers. Current subscribers still get free service and apparently will forever. The Ooma premier service with 2nd phone line is new $119 per year so the price on that has gone up a bit too.
/// Update 4 - 8.01.10
I have now been using this Ooma device for about 20 months. My total out of pocket cost for two phone lines for two years of service has been about $400 including the purchase of the Ooma system. Previous to this I was paying about $60 a month for two lines, so I would have spent about $1400 with traditional phone service over the same period. So, despite all of the predictions of Ooma going out of business and other similar doom and gloom, I have saved about $1000 with this setup compared to a traditional phone line.
It's also worth noting that in the entire time I've had the system I've had maybe 2 or 3 outages that lasted for any appreciable period of time. Typically the system just works, day after day, month after month without even paying attention to it.
/// Update 5 - 8.27.12
I have now been using my Ooma Hub and Scout for over three years without any substantial problems. I think that my wife reported a couple of weeks ago that a call home went straight to voicemail, so I rebooted the unit. I might have 2-3 things like that happen in a year. The cost of Ooma Premiere service has slightly gone up, but I still, in over 3.5 years have spent perhaps a total of $750 on my Ooma to have two phone lines... which works out to about $8 per month.... I had been paying Qwest about $70 for two lines... so, basically Ooma has saved this owner about $2,000 and is still going.