Categorized | the i.t. files

Ooma Core VoIP Phone — heads up!

Our writing elves are busy busting their butts on the second edition of Shoestring Venture which will be coming your way sometime in June. For those unlucky few who don’t already have a copy, you are missing our stupendously useful write-up on VoIP and how to use it to score big business savings.

Well, we’ve just completed a preliminary round of research on the new ooma Core VoIP phone. We’re now solicitiing user input and are about to embark on a trial run of the device ourselves to see if it’s really worth including in our second edition. So, technically, we’re really just operating in hype-land as much as anyone else. But, in the meantime, the hype seems to indicate that this is quite a flashy deal for bootstrap, shoestring, and small businesses, so we’re giving you a quick heads up.

The ooma Core VoIP phone is a dedicated piece of hardware that connects up to your Internet line and provides VoIP that more or less looks, walks, talks, and quacks like a regular phone. Without the phone bill. Many of us on VoIP are still piddling around with headsets poking out of our laptops and the more advanced among us are happily VoIPing away on our iPhones at, of course, AT&T prices.

The ooma Core, however, promises completely free VoIP service. After shelling out a couple hundred bucks for the hardware, you can subscribe, at no cost, to the basic service which allows unlimited in-country calling and a remarkably rich panoply of VoIP add-ons, including caller ID, voicemail, and call waiting.

Now, granted, since you can get VoIP services, such as Google, for free, any new entrant in the field has to compete on that playing field, too. However, for an additional 13 bucks a month, you can get premier services such as private voicemail, three-way conferencing, multi-ring, and do-not-disturb.

Now, there are a few things we don’t know yet because we haven’t taken this thing out for a few laps on the test track yet. We don’t know if it’s compatible with other virtual PBX services or will be offering those services sometime in the future (if you don’t know what virtual PBX is, then, I suggest you mosey on over to Amazon.com and buy our book!). We haven’t really tested the phone quality or determined what the bottom is in terms of connection speed. Until we’ve had this thing in our hands for a bit, we can’t really tell you it’s a good idea to drain your bank account of two crisp one-hundred dollar bills rather than signing up for some completely free service, like Yahoo! or Google, and using your laptop or iPhone.

Keep in mind that the Oomla service, like all other VoIP services (except virtual PBXs) is intended as a residential service. They don’t want you using this as a business phone. That said, the modest needs of a home-based, bootstrap, shoestring, or small business may fit pretty well with their requirements. If you want telemarketing or telephone surveys, Oomla will ding you with extra fees. And you damn well probably deserve them.

While reviews are overwhelmingly positive on Amazon, the blogosphere, the geekosphere, and the DSM (downstream media), there are a few:

Although the advertising says “unlimited” in-country calls, the contract you sign says “3,000 minutes” (50 hours). Here’s the contract:

In the event you engage in Prohibited Use, ooma reserves the right to terminate service without notice or, at ooma’s sole discretion, to charge you at a rate specified on our Web site for calls that exceed the 3,000-minute per month limitation. This rate may be modified on our Web site from time to time.

50 hours is a lot of time, but a (busy) business could easily run up that kind of time (but Ooma only wants you to use the phone for residential use). And, 50 hours of free phone time every month is, well, a whole lot of free in my book. However, I’m with the reviewer on this one: “unlimited” and “maximum of 3,000 minutes” are two very different numbers.

Know the Internet speed going into your home. The high-speed DSL minimum requirement is 1.5 kbps with 384 kbps upstream minimum. This is stated on the product page, so pay attention.

Customer support doesn’t seem to be up to speed yet, with some customers complaining about multiple calls to fix one problem and unknowledgable attendants.

The Ooma customer support stinks and sucks !!! As you read this try calling them and I bet you would be spending atleast 30 minutes without anyone answering the phone. I did not even get a voice mail option and had to drop the calls in frustration after waiting for eternity.

That’s bad. Maybe that should happen once to one or two customers, but not many times to many customers. We point out in the book that people never hire a hosting service for the customer service, but they invariably end up firing a hosting service because of poor customer service. The same is true of any technically complex product, like VoIP.

So I tested their customer service. Yep. On hold, on hold, on hold. Remember: the quality of customer service tells you what value, monetary and otherwise, a company puts on its customers. No company would ever pay an advertising agency to come up with a slogan like, “Oomla. You can wait because we have better things to do.” But every time a customer service center screws up a call, especially by placing it on hold for huge amounts of time, that’s the “advertising slogan” they’re communicating to the customer.

Remember: you don’t just plug this puppy in. You plug it into your router and into your Internet. If you’ve been merrily plugging this and that device into your router without so much as a how-dee-do, fine. But if you’re like everyone else, you might find “plug and play” means “plug and damnit! and plug and crap! and plug and damnitalltohell! and plug and whatthehell?! and plug and killmenow! and, maybe, just maybe, after repeating this sequence several times, plug and play.” It’s a great product and should be easy to pull out of the box and fire up, but be ready to hunker down with a sack of frustration chips and a bottle of aggravation, just in case.

Overall, this looks like a great product. When all the chips are counted, it does have the astonishing benefit of just existing, as it were, the way a phone exists. To channel my 60′s avatar, it has the “gestalt” of a regular landline phone without the monthly price tag. No firing up your computer, no logging on (which is why Google really sucks). It’s the VoIP we all knew was coming some day — phone service for free.

You heard it hear first, but we’re not done with this puppy yet . . .

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4 Responses to “Ooma Core VoIP Phone — heads up!”

  1. Yagnaroopaya says:

    As a Newbie, I am always searching online for articles that can help me. Thank you

  2. Jeff says:

    I am a new Oooma owner. At first it worked and then…..I was so proud, like a new parent or owner of any new gadget that breaks some barrier. Instead, at least, so far, I have a blinking red light that means – No Service. Calling or emailing the Customer Service Department leads to nothing. I believe Ooma is counting on all purchasers being technofabs and enjoying searching the Ooma website for the magic answer to the technical problem. That is all you get for service. Check the website, and hope and pray that someone else had the same problem, they fixed it, and you can understand what they wrote on how they fixed it. Good Luck. I am lost for what’s next!

  3. Bob says:

    I have been using ooma for about four months. It has worked flawlessly. The set up was easy. The call quality is excellent. I have read the complaints about customer service. I have not had a reason to call customer service, so I can’t comment on that. There are forums available for registered ooma users. They are helpful for finding information, and probably eliminate at least some of the need to call customer service.

  4. Tores Maris says:

    Sorry for the huge review, but I’m really loving the new Zune, and hope this, as well as the excellent reviews some other people have written, will help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

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