20 Apr 2010

A review of VoIP provider Ooma

For those of you who haven’t heard of Ooma, it’s a phone service that runs through your internet connection (VoIP).

All you need is a broadband connection. There are two differences over the competition:

  • There are no monthly fees
  • Unlike MagicJack, you don’t need a computer to be on. You just plug a regular analog phone into the Ooma device (which is in turn connected to the internet).

So, if there are no monthly fees for Ooma, where do they get there money from?

Two places. First, for the equipment you buy (the Ooma device costs between $200-$250), and second, from the people who choose to pay for the optional premier service that offers a few extra features like two phone numbers etc.

I never thought I’d want a landline. I’ve owned a cell phone since I was 16 years old, and thought landlines were for old people. Well, I still feel this way. I would never own an analog line in my house. Ooma, while technically a landline, doesn’t require an analog line in my house, doesn’t require monthly fees, and has unlimited calls to any U.S. number.

Setup is easy, you just plug the Ooma device into your router, and it works.

Call quality is great, really great.

Another not so well known benefit is that you could take the device anywhere, and it would work immediately, with the same number.

Not only will it work anywhere in the U.S., but it will work anywhere in the world. Ooma doesn’t restrict itself to just U.S. based IP addressed. If I were to go on holiday to England for a month, I could take the Ooma box with me (it’s the size of a router) and plug it into an internet connection anywhere. I’d still have my U.S. phone number, and I could still call anyone in the USA for free. Pretty good, right?

Well, yes, it is, except Ooma have recently changed their Terms and Conditions in a way that I feel is not very honest.

Ooma’s slogan is Free home phone service. Unlimited U.S. calling and low international rates.

Lets break this down. Free home phone service?

Not any more. Ooma now charges taxes and regulatory fees ($11.75 a year) (they didn’t used to). Their sub-slogan is no monthly fee’s, but, the taxes and regulatory fees are charged yearly instead. This is still very cheap, but they should not be using the word free in their slogan

Arguably not dishonest, but I don’t like it!

Unlimited U.S. calling?

Nope. They restrict it to 5000 minutes a month. Now, this is plenty for me, but it is certainly NOT unlimited. Ooma argues that this is intended for consumers only, and that 5000 minutes should be enough (and is as good as unlimited). They just can’t be profitable is businesses bought it and used it all day. While this is a valid point, it still should not be advertised as unlimited.

Low international rates?

yes. They’re pretty good, and you don’t have to bother with calling cards. Although they’re not quite as good as Google Voice’s rates.

Luckily there is one redeeming factor. The new terms and conditions don’t apply to people who purchased the device BEFORE the change, nor do they apply to anyone that purchases the old Ooma Core device. Luckily this is me. I actually heard about the change in conditions before they were put into effect, so I rushed out and bought mine before the deadline. I’m glad they gave a warning, as i would probably not have purchased the device knowing I’d have to pay a yearly fee.

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to pay for things up front. I’d gladly pay an extra $100 for the device if it meant no fees of any kind later.

Still, if you’re paying $20/mo for an analog line, Ooma is still a great switch. It’s only not a good buy if you don’t have broadband internet (what are you thinking!), or if, like me, you don’t really need a home phone.

If you buy the new model Ooma Telo or the Ooma Hub, you’re stuck with the new terms. You also lose Caller ID (unlike the old terms where this was free, this is now a premier feature, and costs extra money.)

All in all, Ooma is a great service. It’s just unfortunate that either they got greedy, or they realized that their buy once free forever business model was not a good idea (those are the ONLY two possible reasons for the change in terms).

Still, the yearly fee is pretty low, and the quality is great. For people who can find an old Ooma Scout (like I have), this is even better. Even if you don’t use it much, it’s well worth it because you’ll never pay again!