Ooma: A Nifty Way to Make Free Internet Calls

By  |  Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 10:11 am

Ooma is a sure-fire winner for letting home users make free calls within the United States and pennies per call overseas.

Pick up the phone and you’ll hear a familiar dial tone (not that anyone dials anymore; heck, few people under 30 even get what that means). And once you’re connected, the voice quality is remarkable — as good as your landline — and better if you call another Ooma user.

Costco sells the Ooma for $179; Amazon‘s price is closer to $200. You can connect your existing landline to Ooma — corded or cordless — or buy Ooma’s $49 cordless handset.

I have lots of disclaimers, though, things for you to consider before sending your landline to the landfill.

 

Ooma

If you have broadband — DSL, cable, or fiber — and a simple setup, say, a run-of-the-mill router, Ooma will work perfectly. I tried at a neighbor’s house and Ooma was up and running, and I was talking, in about 20 minutes. 

If you have a complicated system like mine, with multiple routers, switches, and — this one’s important — a static IP address, Ooma will also work perfectly — eventually. But you’ll have to tweak and fiddle, reconfigure and unconfigure, and do a little Irish jig while standing on one foot and whistling Dixie.

Let’s Get Technical

For those of you technically-minded: Ooma wants the prime location — right after the cable- or DSL-modem — instead of letting the router have the spot. That way Ooma gets the best, highest-bandwidth signal; all the other devices on the network are next in line.

That arrangement’s fine if your router’s using a dynamic IP address and DHCP.

It’s more complicated when your router is set up with a static IP address. Ooma insists on having that static IP address — remember, it’s first in line — and the router is treated as just another device on the network, and must revert back to DHCP.

As a work-around, I connected the Ooma directly to the router, making it now, unhappily, second in line. The voice quality wasn’t nearly as good as it could be, until I spent another hour changing the router’s QoS settings and opening selective ports. Then I tried the Ooma and the voice quality was superb.

My total investment? Four hours of diddling. I had to kvetch and e-mailed a senior Ooma tech person:

Here’s my conclusion: Average users with a simple broadband configuration may not have any setup problems. But the task of setting up the Ooma with a static IP address means reconfiguring the router; ultimately, it’s exceedingly time consuming and a far more difficult task than an average user can — or should — handle.

Her remarkably frank reply:

Your analysis is pretty much correct. Ooma isn’t for everyone and those with a more complicated network can find it problematic if they do not have the full knowledge needed to make each device co-exist happily or wish to make the necessary changes to their environment to make the system work.

Those that do invest the time typically get it up and running, but for the most part, the more devices they have in line, the more room for error they leave.

As a simple residential product, it may not be up to task for the small business user who has a mildly complex environment.

Some Before-You-Buy Ooma Decisions

If you’re still reading, and still intrigued, you have some things to think about before you purchase the Ooma.

During the online activation process, you can move your existing phone number to the Ooma. It costs $40, but it’s free if you purchase a one-year Ooma Premier $10 per month service. That’s a smart idea if you plan to disconnect your landline. (Click the link above to learn about Premier’s terrific features.)

On the other hand, if you plan to keep your landline, Ooma will give you a new local number that’s used exclusively for the Ooma.

Whether to use the Ooma with your existing landline or cut the cord with Ma Bell can be a difficult decision. The advantage of keeping the landline is you always have a hard-wired connection, critical if you need to call 911. That’s because if the Internet goes down (and when does that ever happen?), or your power goes out, Ooma won’t work.

I want to emphasize that. If you rely solely on Ooma and an Internet connection, your link to 911 ends when the connection ends.

With a landline, and an old phone that doesn’t need power to operate, you have the assurance of a phone connection. Your other option, of course, is to have an inexpensive mobile phone handy.

Ooma: Keep Thinking

There are a bunch of other issues to consider, things that a buyer making what I think is a significant technology change, ought to know about. Unfortunately, Ooma’s site doesn’t always make this information easy to find.

  • The Ooma has a built-in answering machine and the device needs to be located near your Internet modem. So unless you’re using Ooma’s cordless handset, you’ll have to go to that location to check for messages.
  • Ooma suggests that if you have a home alarm system that uses a phone line, keep the landline.
  • Read the Ooma FAQ if you use a fax.
  • Unless you subscribe to Ooma Premium service ($120 per year), you’ll need to pay monthly taxes and fees. Mine calculated to a little over $40 per year, making the premium service — and its extensive features — almost worth the money.
  • Ooma includes their premium service for two months and then, and oh-how-I-hate-it forces you to opt-out in order not to pay the $10 per month fee.
  • They limit you to 5000 outgoing minutes per month, a number I don’t think most people will use. Not a problem unless you’re running a call center.

My Take on Ooma

The Ooma is a fine product with excellent voice quality and nifty features. if you can do without a landline and have a cheapo mobile phone for backup, Ooma can probably pay for itself in a couple of years. I encourage you to buy and try one from a store that will let you return it without penalty.

[This post is excerpted from Steve's TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up--it's delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it's free.]

 

 
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18 Comments For This Post

  1. lokmanede Says:

    i guess alot of us will just stick to Skype

  2. marco Says:

    Hello Steve

    excellent review, thank you.
    I just bought it because I'll be traveling a lot to europe.
    Would you be willing to explain how you configured your routers to assign priority to the ooma when plugged inside the firewall ?

    Thank you very much
    Marco

  3. David Valentine Says:

    Works flawless, I am dropping Quest, porting my number over, and it is also on my alarm dialer! Works fantastic. No computer needed, so Skype away!

  4. Michael Garber Says:

    Hi Steve,

    I'm currently trying to get my Ooma working with Port Forwarding and having a really difficult time. What router did you end up using? I would love to see your settings and QoS info as I've been fiddling around now for days.

    thanks.

    -Michael

  5. Bob Says:

    my Cox communications 'land line' rate is increasing to nearly $20/mo for basic no frills service. So services like Ooma and MagicJack seem to be the way to go. I wonder if Google Phone can offer some similar service using my broadband?

  6. JWS Says:

    The $50 OBi110 from Obihai with Google Voice is a good choice as well.

  7. Blackpippi Says:

    I've been an Ooma user for over two years now. My worry initially was that they would go out of business and I would lose my number, but now I have saved so much money I wouldn't care.
    I do pay for the premier service but only for one of the features: voice messages are emailed to me and my husband (3 emails maximum) as an attachment. We rarely listen to messages from the box. Without premier you still get free emails stating you have a message but you have to logon to the website (or play from the box) to listen. We're too spoiled for this "hassle."
    The premier service offers one other HUGE benefit…a second phone line. My brother has an Ooma and his house has terrible cell reception so he and his wife each can talk at the same time from their respective phones all for about $10 month.
    (Oh, and Magic Jack…you get what you pay for. Nuff said.)

  8. Bill Says:

    I have been using Ooma for over a year now and couldn't be happier. I recommended to my sister-in-law since she lives out of the country. Now she can call my wife without the long distance charges and it's as if she is down the street.

    They used to use Skype. Yikes! You can't compare the two. Much better voice experience using Ooma.

  9. Satyen Says:

    Small error in your review: The bill for Premier does not include taxes and fees.

    From their FAQ: http://ooma.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/

    "Does my Ooma Premier subscription also cover the cost of my mandatory taxes and fees?"

    "No. Your Ooma Premier subscription is separate from the taxes and fees that are due on your account."

  10. Chris D. Brooks Says:

    My landline is from cox communications and fed by the cox box outside to all my home phone lines. How can I feed all my house lines to Ooma when the lines are coming in outside? Regards

  11. Ryan Says:

    Don't waste your time diddling QoS, just assign the Telo a static IP Address and put it in the DMZ.

  12. Xan Says:

    You do not have to go to the machine to check your messages. With modern DECT 6.0 cordless phones (e.g. the Panasonic KX-TG1033S) it will display a message that says "New Voice Mail" and then you can dial your phone number from the handset and listen to your messages. I have my Ooma device upstairs, but I can use the downstairs handset to listen to my messages.

  13. X-Ooma-User Says:

    ooma is NOT free!!! ooma tried to make me pay $3.97 a month for a service I don't want which was 911, when I refused to pay they disabled my ooma. $3.97 a month costs more than MagicJack who only charges $19.97 a year!

  14. Suzette Says:

    i am having trouble with my scout connection can anybody help

  15. Alan Says:

    It has worked great for me for over a year. I do pay the 10 bucks a mo. It allows all my calls to be forwarded to my cell which is nice for snowbirds. I just plugged it in and turned it on. Not to hi tec.

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