Review: A month with Ooma, the lifetime free VoIP system

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Ooma is the VOIP system for people who think long-term and hate bills. $250 up-front gets a lifetime subscription, an attractive space-age unit with integrated answering machine, and an additional “scout” extension unit. Plug the base station in to your router, plug in your old phone, choose a new phone number, and you’re ready.

The maths here are extremely simple. Call quality is fine, so if Ooma can last even a few years without going tits-up, you’ll save a bucket of money using its system. It seeks to prove that phone service is just another set of bits on the pipe, no different to any other internet-based subscription service you’d never pay more than peanuts for.

So it comes down to whether you like the hardware implementation and other standard-issue VoIP foibles like delay-tastic international calls, buggered-up faxes, and always being vaguely nervous about the e911 system.

A premium feature package, offered for $13 a month or $100 a year, includes a second line, three-way conferencing, call forwarding, call screening, caller blocking, ringtones, and a do-not-disturb mode that routs all calls silently to voicemail. There’s even an Akismet-style option to block calls from numbers other Ooma users flag as telemarketers. Porting over your old number is $40.

Local and long-distance calls are free, but international calls are pre-paid at 1c-4c a minute for countries with a modern infrastructure. Nauru is $1.40 a minute. You can top up your account just like a pay-as-you-go cellphone or Skype. Like any VoIP, if your internet goes away, it stops working. Calls are logged, if you like, and can be reviewed online. It does not, however, record the actual calls.

You can plug the base unit directly into your router and it will try and self-configure; putting it between modem and router is the just-works path recommended in the manual, as it guarantees quality of service. Note, you filthy pirates, that this will double-NAT your network unless you put your existing router in bridge mode.

Call quality was good, though there was a delay on international calls that took a few minutes’ getting used to. Faxing and home alarm systems are unsupported. Ooma plans FoIP, which will improve matters for analog data transmissions. Some users report that it works just fine if you plug the fax machine directly into the base unit. I didn’t test faxing because I live in the 21st century.

The scout is a remote extension unit that hooks up to the base via the phone wiring in your house. Its principal uses are to check voicemail, and to allow you to use the second line from a specific location.

Ooma loves to answer the question, “How do you make money?” This is because wholesale bandwidth is cheap, phone calls don’t use any, and you’ve already paid for it with the initial $250. It also lets them segue into plans for world domination: since the Ooma is a little computer running a tightly-tailored cut of Linux PBX software, future versions will allow up to 10 lines, serving small businesses on more profitable recurring subscription plans.

Future editions will also let it do neat things like net-nannying, integrating with home automation systems, and notifying you if your ISP isn’t supplying the bandwidth it sold you. I, for one, look forward to using the headline, “Ooma punches Comcast in the dick.”

This is irrelevant, though, to the phone experience facilitated by the current consumer-oriented wedge product, which is good enough to satisfy anyone who has a stable, fast internet connection, doesn’t do faxing or alarm systems, and is happy with yet another machine on the home network.

Try it, you cowards: it’s currently on special at Amazon for just $200, with free shipping.

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Try your luck at besc...@gmail.com

 

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31 Responses to Review: A month with Ooma, the lifetime free VoIP system

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yea, I have a VoIP home phone, and you might be surprized how many boomers and “the Greatest Generation” still have one. I hooked up OOMA and am lovin’ it. As long as they stay in business, I’ll never go back. As to integration with the cell: very soon you’ll be able to layer up Google voice for exactly that. Ooma is a no-brainer for anyone with a home phone, and that’s a lotta’ people.

  2. devophill says:

    @BCJ- I ran your comment through this free disemvoweler and it suffered no ill effects. Good way to make a mod mad!

  3. LightningRose says:

    I’ve been using Skype for a while and I’m pleased with the audio quality.

    $3 per month to make unlimited calls in the USA and another $5 per month for a phone number to receive calls.

    And I can make calls from my laptop through any wifi service, so I’m not tied to my home to send or receive calls.

    For any online chatting though, I recommend investing in a quality USB headset, the mic inputs on most sound cards are pretty noisy.

  4. Agies says:

    Being behind double NAT isn’t just a problem for pirates, it’s a nightmare for gamers. When I got my most recent DSL modem I didn’t realize that it was also a router (it only had one port) so I just plugged my router in and went on my merry way until I had an unrelated problem and was reading up on the hardware. In the meantime I was getting Halo 3 connection errors that weren’t exactly verbose (it told me my NAT wasn’t strict so I shouldn’t have any problems, which might have been true for one of the NATs).

    So anyway I guess my point is that routers should be routers and modems should be modems and that it’s poor practice to ask a user to change their physical networking setup to accommodate a new device that should really be behind a router anyway.

  5. Rob Beschizza says:

    You can always just chain port-forward, but I think I’ll be moving mine behind the router too.

    The main problem I have with putting it between modem and router is that it it isn’t either right next to either the modem (in the basement) or the router (in the third floor office), it needs to be by a panel with dual ethernet ports.

    I’m lucky to have just that on the ground floor of my house, where I want the phone. As a practical matter, though, most people are going to have to have their phone either by the modem or by the router. Which may or may not be a problem.

  6. BCJ says:

    @Rob

    Thanks for the info. I have no plans to try and beat the disemvoweller (except of course, by not saying stupid things), I merely was struck by some intellectual curiousity.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The current Ooma product supports up to 10 phone numbers, either shared (with different ring patterns) or assigned to Scouts, with different voicemail boxes.

    You can keep your landline if you want real 911 service or have an alarm system (the box will detect the alarm system going offhook and free up the line for it if necessary). The system transparently routes toll calls over VoIP, and uses call-forward-on-busy to make sure your incoming landline calls get handled correctly.

    The recommended installation is for typical consumer routers that don’t handle QoS; it has no problem traversing a standard NAT setup. Basically, if you don’t use all your bandwidth, or you know how to configure QoS, it’ll work just fine behind your router.

    Onefreeliberal (#7) says A potentially interesting tidbit: both Ooma and MagicJack use the same telecommunications service provider for their underlying services. In other words, they both “rent” their network from the same company, so their service qualities will be similar within the same market.

    In a word, “no”. In a few more words, “neither the claim nor the conclusion is true”.

    Oh, and incoming calls can be routed to your cellphone, or ring both and let you decide which to pick up.

    -j

  8. onefreeliberal says:

    You live in the 21st century yet you still use a home based phone of ANY kind, rather than going 100% mobile? I mean, who even owns a physical handset to plug into this device anymore?

    A potentially interesting tidbit: both Ooma and MagicJack use the same telecommunications service provider for their underlying services. In other words, they both “rent” their network from the same company, so their service qualities will be similar within the same market.

  9. Anonymous says:

    If you mean termination partners, Ooma has several, for redundancy and improved coverage. If you mean Internet connectivity, I suspect you’re talking about our corporate network, not Production; we buy the good stuff for actual customer traffic.

    -j

  10. dculberson says:

    I forgot to add; this would look great with my crest guy phone plugged into it:

    http://www.gasolinealleyantiques.com/images/Telephone%20Page/tp-crest.jpg

  11. BCJ says:

    Mаn, thаt MаgіcJаck thrеаd іs еpіc tо sаy thе lеаst. Іt mаdе my mоrnіng.

    Іt аlsо gоt mе wоndеrÑ–ng thоцgh. ThÑ–s mÑ–ght bе оnе оf thоsе “Pаy nо аttеntіоn tо thе mаn bеhÑ–nd thе cцrtаіn” kÑ–nd оf shÑ–t-dÑ–stцrbÑ–ng qеstіоns, bцt lеt’s sаy І’m аn оbvіоцs spаmmеr, sо І knоw my cоmmеnt wÑ–ll bе dÑ–smvоwellеd. Whаt’s tо stоp mе frоm dоіng sоmеthÑ–ng lÑ–kе цsÑ–ng 1337-SP3@K, оr rеplаcÑ–ng аll my vоwеls wÑ–th оnе оf thе mаny еqÑ–vаlеnts цnÑ–cоdе hаs tо оffеr? Dоеs thе dÑ–smvоwеller sÑ–mply chеck thаt chаrаctеrs аrеn’t thе stаndаrd vоwеls? Dоеs Ñ–t thrоw оцt аny chаrаctеr thаt Ñ–sn’t: а cоnsоnаnt, а pцnctаtіоn mаrk оr а nцmbеr? Іs Ñ–t цp tо thе pеrsоn dоіng thе dÑ–sеmvоwеllng tо chеck fоr thеsе thÑ–ngs? І hаvе wrÑ–ttеn thÑ–s pоst цsÑ–ng CyrÑ–llÑ–c chаrаctеrs, thе pцrsціt оf knоwlеdgе dеmаnds fоr Ñ–t tо bе dÑ–sеmvоwеllеd.

  12. DSMVWL THS says:

    I, for one, look forward to using the headline, “Ooma punches Comcast in the dick.

    Obligatory MeFiMusic link

  13. dculberson says:

    onefreeliberal, many people have use for a “home phone” even after having gone 100% mobile. I don’t have one, but there are times I wish I did. Mostly when I have guests..

    I like the design of the Ooma box. I wonder how hackable it is? Maybe if they go tits up we’ll get our hands on some to experiment with..

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’m an Ooma customer for about 2 months
    Works perfectly.. fine voice quality better than Vontage which I had to cancel, because it dropped calls all the time amd then they charge you $84 to Cancel .

    Ooma Works fine with my Wireless Internet Service even tho it is not Recommend.

    No need for Scout, Just plug Your Cordless base unit in, Now I Have 5 Cordless remotes in the house that Work Fine

  15. kd5eet says:

    If an alarm panel is able to commuicate in any “4+2 standard” format such as “4+2 Ademco L/S Standard”, or “radionics 4+2 standard” and you monitor also suports it, it should work over voip. You cant use “4+2 express” though. You can also find monitoring companies that sell special internet adapters. Just make sure your alarm company uses caller ID as backup to send police in case of a comm failure.

  16. Hi. I hope someone out there will take the time to answer my question about this. Recently I bought a Magic Jack after hocking it up and using it, it kept breaking up while talking over the phone, I then put it on another USB port tried it again after re bouting the system and again the same thing happened,a few mins. into the phone talk it started lossing a lot of the words. Does anyone out there know how to correct this, or for that matter would I have the same problem with “ooma” if I go out and buy it. Thanks

  17. Lars says:

    I have Ooma and Comcast. I get dropped calls enough for my wife to say “throw that thing in the river”.

  18. zuzu says:

    Anything to make MagicJack stop bombarding me with ads on television.

  19. Rob Beschizza says:

    Attention occasional readers: our post on MagicJack hovers around the top 5 google results for “magicjack,” and the comment thread on it is as a result infested with their astroturfers. It’s fun to dive in now and again.

  20. Anonymous says:

    To onfreeliberal — this is a deal breaker for me (as well as cutting the cord) until I find an alternative to having my home alarm tied to the phone line. I cannot give up the alarm service.

  21. technogeek says:

    My problem with most of the VOIP products is that I like my existing phone instruments and house wiring (including the ability to have several phones offhook at once and to dial from any of them), and VOIP boxes don’t generally have strong enough amplifiers to support that.

    A few boxes do exist which can do this for house-phone-over-cell-phone. One of those can connect to a hardwired line as well and let you switch between them; I suppose one could connect it to the VOIP unit and essentially let it play the role of distribution amplifier, but that’s starting to get just a bit complicated…

  22. edgore says:

    This sounds like what I have been looking for. What is the catch? Will Comcast “network manage” it out of existence?

  23. technogeek says:

    I should also note that there are other low-cost VOIPs — the “Magic Jack” has a $20/year cost after the first year’s $40-with-hardware. But I do like the fact that this one is its own self-contained processor rather than needing to plug into and steal cycles from another PC.

    Hm. FIOS to its router, through this specialized router, to my private/secure LAN’s router…

  24. zuzu says:

    As a practical matter, though, most people are going to have to have their phone either by the modem or by the router. Which may or may not be a problem.

    Um, what about just running some CAT-6 cable from where you want your router to where you want your phone?

    since the Ooma is a little computer running a tightly-tailored cut of Linux PBX software,

    You can plug the base unit directly into your router and it will try and self-configure; putting it between modem and router is the just-works path recommended in the manual, as it guarantees quality of service. Note, you filthy pirates, that this will double-NAT your network unless you put your existing router in bridge mode.

    Isn’t the port-forwarding and QoS for Asterisk PBX well published by now?

    Also, how does any modern piece of networking equipment still not support uPNP / NAT-PMP for auto-negotiating port-forwarding?

    (There’s no good reason to double-NAT; even with Verizon FiOS you should demand Internet from the ethernet port on the ONT and only television from the coax — none of this MoCA nonsense.)

    I like the design of the Ooma box. I wonder how hackable it is? Maybe if they go tits up we’ll get our hands on some to experiment with..

    Has anyone gotten root access or a serial console working on one of these yet?

  25. rageahol says:

    “lifetime service”

    ever heard of replayTV?

  26. ThisIsMyUserName says:

    Why spend $250 when you can do the same thing for $100 with NetTalk’s TK6000? After using MagicJack for a while I just ordered a NetTalk tk6000. The TK6K does what Ooma does, but costs only a one-time fee of $100 for free VOIP for life. Majicjack costs $12 per year (when you buy 5 years for $60). Like Ooma, NetTalk’s TK6000 plugs into your router (no need for a computer or ThinClient), whereas MagicJack plugs into your computer’s USB. Both NetTalk tk6000 and the MajicJack work with your old fashioned phones. Both MagicJack and NetTalk promise to have local number porting available “soon, which hopefully is coming by the end of 2009.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I think the only catch is that home phone services that don’t mesh with mobile phone services are going out of style faster than trucker hats.

  28. bobs12 says:

    A little late and off-topic, the disemvoweller is mine, which I wrote in 5 mins long ago for making interesting reading exercises, not for moderating comments :) Only later learned what disemvowelment was popular for… a mix of character sets could be a good trigger for a comment spam filter, I see the technique used a lot in spam (Russian spam with Latin characters & vice versa).

    The article was no doubt interesting :)

  29. Rob Beschizza says:

    BCJ, I wrote a unicode disemvoweler script but haven’t had to set it up yet. :)

  30. Rob Beschizza says:

    However, I’m sure any comments of that sort will just get deleted: it’s one thing to say something worth disemvoweling, but an entire different class of offense to try and break the moderation technology.

  31. onefreeliberal says:

    @Anonyomous, post #21

    Onefreeliberal (#7) says A potentially interesting tidbit: both Ooma and MagicJack use the same telecommunications service provider for their underlying services. In other words, they both “rent” their network from the same company, so their service qualities will be similar within the same market.

    In a word, “no”. In a few more words, “neither the claim nor the conclusion is true”.

    Really? Strange, because I actually work for the company that provides the both of them with their backbone services. I don’t claim we provide 100% of their backbones, but I’m willing to bet it’s a substantial portion.

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