The (plain old) telephone system most of us are familiar with was developed in the early 20th century.  Since the 1930’s, the most significant  changes have been the addition of touch tone (in the 60’s), and improvements in capacity and quality.  But the fact remainsusing  a land line in your home today is an experience not much different than what your great-grandparents did.

In the last couple of decades, serious challenges to traditional telephony have surfaced:  cellular technology and VoIP  (Voice over Internet Protocol).  Most significantly, the large cable companies are now bundling cable TV, high speed internet, and VoIP phone service.

Up until a week or so ago, we’ve had a land line in our home.  This has bugged me for some time, and after looking into several options, we’ve finally made the leap.  No more local phone company, and no more phone bill.  After paying the local telephone company in each of the towns we’ve lived in for the last few decades between $35 & $60 per month, (please don’t do the math; I don’t want to know) I canceled our service.

ooma systemWe’re now using ooma – a voip service with which all local and long distance calls within the U.S. are free; international calls range from 1 to 4¢ per minute.  Our upfront cost for the ooma system was $189 (I bought it on sale at Amazon; the “regular” price at Amazon is $219; “List Price” is $249).  Installation took about 15 minutes.  Voice quality is superb.  If a land line is 10 out of 10, this is 9 out of 10.  Most calls are absolutely indistinguishable from those made with a land line.   I’ll occasionally hear a little electronic background noise, and my wife has mentioned a delay on local calls; both are rare, though.  And, ooma is loaded with features

ooma standard features

  • Caller ID
  • Call Waiting
  • Voicemail
  • Voicemail notifications via email
  • Use your own corded or cordless phones – no special equipment needed
  • Anonymous call block (block callers who don’t reveal their caller ID)
  • The “ooma lounge” – an online resource where you can set options, listen to voicemails, and review call logs
  • Enhanced 911 service (Note:  for ooma to operate, your computer doesn’t have to be on, but your modem must be powered)
  • In most cases, keep your old phone number (Note:  this was not the case with us!)

What you need in order to use ooma

  • A high speed internet connection
  • A regular phone (cordless systems work great)

The basics

DSC_1150aThe heart of the ooma system is the ooma Hub (on the right in this photo).  The Hub is located between your cable modem and router (or computer, if you’re not using a router).  With DSL internet connections, the Hub is placed between the modem / integrated router and your computer.  (This location is important, as the Hub will prioritize calls over computer data transfers in order to deliver the highest possible voice quality.)

After connecting ethernet cables from the modem to the Hub and in turn from the Hub to your router (or computer), all you need to do is connect a phone to the Hub and a phone line from the Hub to your phone wall jack.

By the way, the tab you see at the top left of the Hub is the ooma “tab” (click on the image for a close up) – when illuminated blue, your internet connection is live and you’re good to go.  If the tab is blinking red, you press down on it and the buttons on the device serve as diagnostic indicators, pinpointing the issue by lighting up in a variety of patterns.  Very neat, and easy to use.

If you’re using a cordless system, the cordless base station plugs into the Hub (you must switch off the answering machine feature on the base station).  Your cordless extension phones will work just as they did, pre-ooma.

ooma Scout in operationTo add another phone, you simply plug an ooma “Scout” into a phone jack in another room, and of course plug the phone into the Scout.  That’s it!  Here’s a shot of the Scout (one comes with the system package) in our bedroom with a different cordless phone.  Note that the ooma “tab” is illuminated blue; the same diagnostics as described earlier can be performed on the Scout.  In fact, the Scout features voicemail playback.

As I mentioned earlier, it took no more than 15 minutes to have the system up and running.  Oh yeah:  the ooma system comes beautifully packaged.  The manuals are nicely illustrated and well written.  All the necessary cables come with the system.   ooma customer service, I should mention, seems to be headquartered in Mumbai or thereabouts.

If you wish, you can keep a land line for making 911 calls, should your internet service go down.  In this case, you simply plug an extra phone (corded, should the power go out) into a phone jack.

One other point:  your computer does not have to be on for ooma to work.  Just the Hub and your modem need to be powered up for the system to work.

Did I mention?  No phone bill!

All of the above is yours with the ooma system.  With ooma, all  local and long-distance calls within the 50 U.S. states are free. There are a few exceptions: ooma does not support 900 numbers and phone chat services. Directory assistance (411) calls will be charged to your prepaid calling account and cost $0.99 per call.  (I suggest you use a service such as 1-800-FREE-411 (you’ll have to listen to a 10 second ad) or 1-800-GOOG-411 (FREE, and it’s from Google!).

What about International users??

Direct from the ooma website:

The ooma system can be used anywhere there is a high-speed Internet connection. Regardless of where you use it, calls to the US will be free and calls outside the US will be subject to low-cost international rates. If you plan to use the device overseas, be sure to use a phone that meets US standards, and be aware that the power supply that comes with the ooma Hub is built for US power specifications. Also, if you choose to install and use the ooma system outside the US, you’ll be solely responsible for compliance with international laws and subject to all associated fees, taxes, tariffs, and legal penalties.

ooma Premier

I won’t go into all the Premier features in detail, but for an annual fee of $99, you can get a lot of enhanced functionality:

  • Message screening – listen to voicemails as they’re being recorded; pick up if you wish
  • Voicemail forwarding – forward voicemails to your email
  • Do not Disturb – no phone rings, no outgoing message played out loud, voicemails go to mail box silently
  • Send to Voicemail – need to record directions or a recipe from a caller? Hit a button and the caller is transferred to voicemail
  • Instant Second Line – someone else using the phone?  Use a separate phone, hit the number “2” on the Hub or Scout, and voila, you have an instant second line and can make calls!
  • Three-way conferencing – facilitate a 3-way call by combining the two lines
  • Personal numbers – receive a lot of calls from a particular area code?  Choose a phone number in that area code, and your friends & family in that area can call you on that local number – saving long distance charges on their end
  • Private voicemail – you can create a private voicemail with password on any ooma device
  • Ring Patterns – choose custom ring patterns for each of your numbers
  • Multi-Ring – going on vacation, or on the go a lot?  Forward your calls to your cell phone or any phone you choose
  • Personal Blacklist – blacklist individuals you don’t want to receive calls from
  • Community Blacklist – take advantage of the ooma community blacklist – telemarketers, etc.
  • Transfer your number – transfer your current number to ooma.  Normally $39.99, it comes along with the Premier package

One thing I should mention with regard to our specific ooma experience.  No local numbers were available from ooma.  As a result, we had to choose a number that’s local for a town about 45 miles away.  Friends who live in our town who have land lines have to make a “long distance” call to reach us.  As most of our friends use cell phones or have unlimited long distance, this isn’t too big a deal.  We considered sticking with a stripped down land line for this reason, but ultimately decided to ditch it altogether.  Eventually, more and more people will opt for ooma or something similar.

Another issue:  in most cases, ooma can “port” your existing number, so you can retain it.  We couldn’t do this, either.  Keep in mind that we live approximately 32 miles from The Absolute Middle of Nowhere, and the local telco is notorious for not releasing numbers to competing entities like ooma.  But, in our case it’s simply a matter of letting our friends and a few businesses know oomathat our number has changed.  Given that I’m going from $60 a month to $0 a month, I can live with this short term inconvenience.

The alternatives – and why I chose ooma

In researching options to our traditional phone service, I looked at Vonage, Charter phone (VoIP), and Skpe in addition to ooma.  I am aware of Magic Jack, but never seriously considered it, given the user reviews I’ve read and a friend’s experience with it.

In the final analysis, I relied upon user reviews more than anything else.  I read at least 80 ooma reviews. (Click here to read ooma reviews at Amazon.)

What sold me on ooma were three things:

  • Positive user and professional (The New York Times, USA Today,  The WSJ, etc.) reviews
  • I could use my existing phones
  • Price.  The upfront investment will be recouped in a little over 3 months, and after that, ooma is free

Even if I opt for ooma Premier (the ooma system comes with a 60 day trial), I’m still WAY ahead of the game.

Bottom Line

I couldn’t be much more excited about our switch to ooma.  Our initial impressions are quite positive, and frankly ditching the land line has been a liberating experience.  It’s really bothered me to shell out ~$700 a year for technology that’s been around for a hundred years.

When we’ve got a few month’s experience with ooma, I’ll write a follow-up post.  Right now, we’re lovin’ it.

ooma is available at Best Buy, Costco, Rat Shack, and Amazon

If you have any questions or have had experience with ooma or any of the other options mentioned here, please comment.

Finally, a video from Computer TV that covers the ooma basics:

The Fine Print:  this post contains Amazon affiliate links

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9 Comments on ooma: how I dumped my land line and now pay nothing for local and long distance calls

  1. Michael W. says:

    FWIW guess what I saw at Costco last week? Yes, stacks of OOMA packages ready for sale, over in electronics. Looks like the purchasing staff at Costco agrees with you that OOMA is a Good Thing.

    And oh yeah, before your column I had NEVER heard of OOMA.

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  2. WOLF says:

    Got one too and can only confirm. It’s great!
    Some features concerning the settings could be improved.
    For example different forwarding/multi-ring options for different ooma numbers (ooma comes with one number, premier adds another, and more numbers can be added for a monthly fee). Voice mail transcription à la Google Voice would also be a nice feature as well as a (free) SMS interface inside the lounge would be. But ooma is fantastic as it is already, so that would only add to this great service.

    One more thing: A new ooma is coming out, supossedly mid to late 2009 – whatever that exactly means (see http://www.crunchgear.com/2009.....s-it-telo/ ) and the new features (SMS on handset for example) look very interesting and promising. I might upgrade then…

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    Kevin Reply:

    @Wolf: thanks for commenting. We are still really enjoying ours. I paid my last bill from the local phone company last week, which felt really good. Voice quality has been very good. Caller ID works well, but as our “local” number is for a town 45 minutes away, some local callers aren’t identified. But… it’s free. ooma seems to be doing well, too, as they’ve received $16M in additional VC funding during the last quarter.

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  3. WOLF says:

    Yep, can only comfirm, everything working just as promised.
    Absolutely happy with it! ;)

    [Reply]

  4. VOR says:

    Man I HATE this sort of techno-touting. Before you freak out
    and edit this LISTEN TO ME. Cellular or internet phone service
    is a DISPICABLY POOR substitute for land lines. The quality of the
    audio is substantially less. The compansion and other processing is poorly implemented and results in a much less intimate communication experienced. Background noise is actually much more invasive and distracting. These related technologies are subject to dropouts, ended calls, batteries dying, power failure vulnerability, no 911 service,etc, on and on.
    Im not against using the tech, but the problem is that as more and more people decide to stop using land lines altogether, the land line
    providers start talking about stoping that ‘antiquated’ service.
    LAND LINES ARE NOT ATIQUATED!. Dont stop touting tech, just stop bashing land lines and please, actuallY SUPPORT LAND LINE USE. Please be thoughtful about this important issue.

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    Kevin Reply:

    No freak out at all. Here’s the deal: land line, 10/10 in terms of quality. ooma, 7/10. Land line, $60 per month. ooma, $0 per month. You do the math. I can live with an occasional dropped call or less than stellar connection when I’m saving $700+ per year.

    Why is this a hot button for you?

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    Bob Reply:

    You are soooo correct. Landline quality makes you feel like you’re having a real and intimate connection with a remote person. Cell and IP is still crap. And while we’re on the subject of so-called progress, MP3 is crap compared to CD (and vinyl of course…but even I couldn’t stand the snapple, crackle, pop of records).

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    Kevin Reply:

    OMG. How are things at the phone company, by the way?

    [Reply]

  5. GJ Penn says:

    Thanks for sharing that, i also used to have my landline phone but that was more of a headache than offering any kind of utility. Thanks to axvoice (my new voip service) i save money and headaches as well.

    [Reply]

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