OOMA Office brings enterprise-style VOIP services to SOHO and SMBs

Summary:OOMA's solution for small businesses is a multi-line subscriber VOIP service with a corporate-class call attendant and integrated voicemail that's affordable and easy to use.

I've been a user of OOMA's Voice over IP products for home telephony since they shipped their first product in 2009. Ever since, I've been POTS-free. OOMA's service is extremely reliable and I've been very happy with their call quality in the four years I have been using their service.

I eventually graduated from their first-generation product to the Telo, which is a slicker-looking solution that allows for cell phone integration/call unification via the use of Bluetooth and also provides for the use of special DECT 6.0 handsets which eliminate the need for regular cordless phone base stations to be plugged into the system's analog RJ-11 (POTS) telephone port, thus resulting in much higher audio quality. 

oomaoffice
Diagram of the OOMA Office system.

The Telo, while an excellent product for residential use, has its limitations. It is not, by design, a multi-line, multi-extension system suitable for a small business type of environment where each handset can be tied to its own phone number.

And while the Telo has built-in voicemail, it does not have a call attendant with a company directory, if you wanted to give callers the impression that you were a much larger company than you actually were.

Despite the avaliability of the Telo's "Instant Second Line" premium service, if you needed two VOIP lines, each with its own phone number, then you needed two Telos.

That's exactly what I did for the last few years -- for our "Home" line I had one Telo attached to a Panasonic base station that my wife used which communicated with a couple of 2.4Ghz handsets, and for my business line, I had another, connected to two OOMA HD2 DECT 6.0 handsets.

The new OOMA Office solution takes this one step further. You can have up to five VOIP lines, each with their own phone number, connected up to four phones and one FAX line, or five phones and 15 virtual extensions for extending your business to remote employees that may be mobile or home-based. 

To accomplish this, the OOMA Office base station communicates with a wirelessly connected remote device called a "Linx" which plugs into an electrical wall socket and is paired via DECT 6.0 to the base. You plug a regular desk phone or a wireless handset base station into the Linx to make your actual calls. The Linx devices can also be used with the residential Telo system.

The basic OOMA Office starter kit ($249.00) comes with two Linx units, so that means you can have up to 3 lines if you include the built in port on the base station.

It supports an additional two Linx units which are sold as accessories. The base station hardware is actually capable of supporting 10 phone lines over a single broadband connection, but right now the firmware can only support four Linx units and the internal POTS connector.

Like the Telo the OOMA Office has an easy, web-based provisioning system for activating the service, configuring the voice attendant and phone extensions, porting existing telephone numbers if desired and provisioning VOIP lines, each of which costs $19 per month for unlimited calling in the US and Canada. 

Virtual Receptionist
OOMA Office Web UI

This is different from payment model in that the residential Telo is sold, which is a single $249.00 purchase for lifetime unlimited calling in the United States for a single line, and other services are upsold as premium enhancements.

The $19 per month for each OOMA Office line covers essentially all the premium upsells that were sold for the Telo, plus of course a caller attendant/automated receptionist, personalized voice mail, customized hold music/announcements (you can upload any MP3 under 5MB), conference bridging, virtual extensions, ring groups and call forwarding per line.

These are the kind of services that used to require much more expensive VOIP-enabled IP-PBX (Internet Protocol-Public Branch Exchange) systems that start at thousands of dollars and required specialized and vendor-specific phone hardware.

I think the OOMA Office is an excellent solution for a small business, one which could save you a lot of money in phone bills, but it is probably overkill for residential use, in which case I think their Telo product is much more suitable.

However there are a few things about the Office solution that currently annoy me. First, the current firmware only supports four Linx devices. As I understand from the company's product development team, this will eventually be expanded to handle ten Linx units with a future software update. The company is also working on "Stacking" of base stations so you can have the building blocks of a much larger system.

Additionally, the HD2 DECT 6.0 handsets and the Bluetooth adapter accessories from the Telo are not currently compatible with this solution although support is also forthcoming in a future firmware update.

The one feature that is currently lacking that I most would have wanted from a solution like this is a softphone application that could run on Windows and the Mac, which would allow the use of products like Logitech's H820e/H650e high-definition audio headsets to connect to the base station over the LAN or WiFi network.

This is still theoretically doable with the use of an inexpensive analog terminal adapter for each line and any number of SIP clients for Windows and Mac, but I would have preferred a more integrated solution. As I have been made to understand, this is also something OOMA is also looking into releasing as a future software enhancement.

Overall I think OOMA Office is an excellent product, as well as a great service value for small businesses even with its current limitations. But as the product is software upgradable, I'm expecting its capabilities to improve considerably over the course of the next six months to a year.

Are you considering the OOMA Office for your small business VOIP needs? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Unified Comms, Broadband, Hardware, Networking, SMBs

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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