Dude, Where's My Phone Bill?

Summary:The OOMA is a Voice Over IP (VOIP) appliance that plugs into your broadband connection which provides you unlimited local and long distance telephone service. What's the difference between this and other consumer VOIP solutions such as Vonage or Packet8?

The OOMA is a Voice Over IP (VOIP) appliance that plugs into your broadband connection which provides you unlimited local and long distance telephone service. What's the difference between this and other consumer VOIP solutions such as Vonage or Packet8? No phone bill.

At the beginning of the year, I was informed I was no longer able to expense my AT&T CallVantage Voice Over IP service or my monthly broadband charges as part of my employer's efforts to reduce costs. This was not unexpected, as virtually every large corporation nowadays with home-based employees are doing exactly the same thing. I grumbled at the decision when it happened, as I still needed to make a lot of business calls from my home, but picking up my VOIP charges on my own was better than having to eat regular land line charges for long distance, which could easily be several times that figure.

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Last week, AT&T announced that it would be discontinuing CallVantage, As a subscriber to the service for four years, this left me with the decision of having to migrate to a new service.

A few weeks ago, via, FaceBook, one of my friends told me about a device from OOMA, a Palo Alto-based VOIP startup company that is most notable for being initially financed by Ashton Kutcher, star of "Punk'd", "That '70s Show" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" and being married to actress Demi Moore. Most recently, Kutcher has been involved in a popularity contest between himself and CNN on Twitter as to who could accumulate a million followers the quickest, with Kutcher emerging as the victor.

Whatever you feel about Kutcher -- and admittedly, I'm not much of a fan of his work -- I have to profess to being a big fan of the OOMA unit. Why is this device so cool? Because after you purchase it, there's no ongoing monthly fees. None. Zero. Zip. And it includes free Voicemail as well as Caller ID and Call Waiting, along with a management web site that allows you to configure and add features to your service and download voicemails to your PC. Here's what's listed in the basic feature set for the device:
  • Free US calling: Call anyone, anytime, anywhere in the U.S.
  • Phone number flexibility: Choose a new number anywhere in the U.S. or transfer an existing number for a one-time charge
  • Caller-ID: See the name and number of who is calling (caller-ID compatible phone required)
  • Call-waiting: Switch to a new incoming call when you are already on the line
  • Call-waiting caller-ID: See the name and number of a new incoming call before you switch over
  • Voicemail: Access your messages remotely from any phone or web browser
  • Voicemail notifications: Receive notifications via email or text when incoming messages arrive
  • Broadband Answering Machine: Listen to messages hands-free with the built-in speaker
  • ooma Lounge: Hear messages and control your preferences online
  • Call logs: Check your calling history online; filter and sort to find the call you are looking for
  • Enhanced 911: Emergency personnel are automatically given your registered address when you dial 911 (subject to availability)
  • Free in-network calling: Call another ooma customer anywhere in the world for free
  • Outbound caller name: Have your name show up when you call out (other party must have caller-ID with name feature)
  • Caller-ID blocking: Use *67/*82 to block or display your caller-ID/name for outgoing calls
  • Anonymous call blocking: Automatically block anonymous calls from ringing your phone
  • Call return: Return the last incoming call by dialing *69
  • Landline backup: Automatic fallback during power/Internet outages or 911 calls (requires basic landline to be plugged-in)
  • Prepaid international calling: Make low-cost international calls starting at only a penny per minute
  • Directory assistance: Make 411 calls at $0.99 per call
  • Warranty: One-year limited warranty

Right now, the OOMA is selling at Amazon for $214.00 and is available at 1000 Internet-based and larger retailers, such as Best Buy. To put that in perspective, that equates to $17.83  a month if amortized over the first twelve months. I was previously paying $29 a month for AT&T CallVantage. After the first year, your investment in the device should have already paid for itself. In my case, it will happen in about six months.

Setup of the device was easy. I went to OOMA's web site to activate service with an easy to use provisioning application, and then I plugged it into my SOHO router, and plugged my wireless DECT 6.0 phone base station (an inexpensive Panasonic set) into the OOMA. Within minutes, I was making calls. You can also bridge it directly to your Cable/DSL modem, and extend the OOMA to multiple base stations through the use of the OOMA Scout remote device.

So how is this company going to capitalize? OOMA intends to make money by selling premium services as add-ons to the basic VOIP, such as International Calling, porting of your existing phone number, Call Blacklisting, Call Following (also known as "multi-ring", similar to Google's Grand Central), Secondary Lines and Conference Calling. The "Premier" functions are $12.99 a month or $99.00 a year.

I've been impressed with the ease of installation and management and the sound quality of the calls with the OOMA that I might just forgive Ashton Kutcher -- who no longer has an interest in the company -- for the artistic atrocity of "Dude, Where's My Car?" and for taking Demi Moore off the market for those of us actually closer to her age group.

In my opinion, he scored big with "Dude, Where's my Phone Bill?".

Have you used the OOMA service? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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Topics: Telcos, Mobility, Networking, Unified Comms

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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