Ooma Puts Out
a Call to Ditch Landlines for Web-Based Service
been possible for several years now for Americans to dump
their landline phone companies and pay much less with services
that route calls over the Internet instead of over the regular
phone network. For instance, the leader in this business,
Vonage, charges just $25 a month for unlimited local and long-distance
calling in the U.S. and Canada, much less than most traditional
few Americans have adopted these alternatives, which are called
voice over Internet protocol services, or VOIP, for short.
Some consumers avoid the move because VOIP services canít
connect to 911 emergency call centers in the traditional manner,
and must use workarounds. Others worry that if their Internet
service goes out, so does their phone service.
the stability of the VOIP providers isnít certain. Vonage
itself has been battered by legal problems and another VOIP
service, SunRocket, shut down this week.
testing a new type of VOIP option that will go on sale in
September from a Silicon Valley start-up called Ooma, whose
product goes by the same name. It differs radically from Vonage
and other current VOIP providers, in two ways.
Ooma is a $399 piece of hardware that you pay for only once.
There are no monthly bills. You just buy an Ooma Hub, a small
device that looks like an answering machine. You plug it into
your Internet connection and attach a phone, and you get free,
unlimited domestic calls, local or long distance, as long
as you keep your Ooma.
with Ooma, you can easily keep your regular phone service
as an integrated backup, for 911 calls, and in case the Internet
service in your home goes out.
the VOIP and regular phone service. If you keep your standard
phone service, Ooma uses your current phone number. And, if
you dial 911, it always places that call over the traditional
phone network. During an Internet outage, the device seamlessly
switches to use the regular phone service, but you still pay
no fees to Ooma.
do keep your standard service, you can reduce it to a very
basic, low-cost plan, just for 911 and backup. International
calls are routed through the Internet by Ooma and the company
says they will cost roughly what Internet phone services like
Skype charge for nonmember calls, which is well below traditional
delivers some added benefits. It gives you a virtual second
line. If a call comes in when you are already on the line,
the second call can be answered from another extension. It
also has a built-in answering machine, and allows you to check
your messages and call logs online.
testing Ooma in my home for about a week and, except for a
problem on one phone jack, I found it worked as promised.
I tested it with both corded and cordless phones, and I also
tested a companion $39 device, called an Ooma Scout, which
must be plugged into the phone jacks in your house you want
to use, beyond the jack to which the Hub is connected. Each
scenario worked well.
plugged my cordless-phone base station into an Ooma box, all
of the remote handsets continued to work normally. The only
difference was the dial tone; Ooma gives you a unique musical
dial tone to tell you itís on duty.
using the peer-to-peer Internet system popularized by file-sharing
sites. Each Ooma box is part of Oomaís network. The box in
your home, for instance, might carry someone elseís phone
call, though you canít hear that call, and this doesnít interfere
with your own ability to make and receive calls whenever you
want. In my tests, the Ooma didnít seem to affect the speed
of the Internet connection used by our computers.
its network, Ooma will be seeding the country with 1,500 boxes
over the summer. These will be provided free of charge. But
the only way to get one, if you arenít on the initial list,
is to know somebody who has one. Each recipient gets three
tokens ó redeemable for a free Ooma ó to give to others.
is relatively straightforward and the manual is clear, assuming
you have standard cable modem or DSL Internet service.
run into one problem. When I plugged my cordless-phone base
station into an Ooma Scout, outgoing calls worked OK, but
incoming calls wouldnít work properly. This problem cleared
up when I moved the base station to a different phone jack,
but it suggests that, at least on some jacks, Ooma may fail.
devices can be constantly updated over the network to fix
problems and add capabilities, and the company is planning
to add more features and options, some of which may cost money.
there is no guarantee that Ooma can handle a large number
of customers as well as it did my test unit. But Ooma may
be a good option for people who want to cut their phone bills,
and either arenít worried about 911 and Internet outages,
or are willing to keep a basic, low-price standard phone service
to cover those contingencies.
me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find all my columns and videos online
free at the new All Things Digital Web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.
in Personal Technology (Wall Street Journal)]