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.