Taking a Google Voice office to the extreme with Ooma

Taking a Google Voice office to the extreme with Ooma

Summary: If you're looking for a good VoIP solution and don't need Google Voice, consider Ooma. It's pretty impressive. However, if you're firmly a Google Voice user, you might want to look elsewhere.

TOPICS: SMBs, Apps, Google, Mobility

All projects: DIY-IT Project Guide
This project: The Ultimate Google Voice How-to Guide (2014 Edition)

Welcome to the 2014 edition of the Ultimate Google Voice How-To Guide, presented by ZDNet's DIY-IT blog. In this article, and the baker's dozen that accompany it, you'll learn just about everything you need to know to get the most out of the Google Voice service. This guide contains a complete end-to-end update of our 2011 Google Voice guide, chock full of new ideas, completely new articles, and amazing tips.

You'll learn how to port your landline to Google Voice, how to set up phone handsets, how to integrate Google Voice into your iPhone and Android experience, how to set up a multi-line office, how to get the most out of using Google Voice and SMS, and even how to use Google Voice effectively and safely in your car, and lots more.

So brew up a cup of coffee or your favorite tea, grab a few snacks, and prepare to discover how plain 'ol phone calls are about to be transformed into something virtually indistinguishable from magic.

This article is a continuation of our Google Voice series. In this article, we'll look at how you can set up a complex home office with two phone lines, have multiple handsets, and enable either person to easily answer either phone line from any handset, all while using Google Voice.

This article assumes you've already got a working Google Voice account and it's linked to your phone. If you don't, please read the earlier articles in this series. We are also aware of the rumors that Google may end-of-life Google Voice or migrate its functionality more fully into Hangouts and, if that happens, we'll update this series with all your best options.

One of the reasons we're updating this article series is to give you the benefit of our long-term experience using Google Voice. In Google Voice: a cheapskate's guide to cheap VoIP, I described to our our Mark I setup for using Google Voice in a home office environment, which we started doing back in 2011 and used for about a year.

In this article, I'll take you through our Mark II setup, which we used for about 18 months. While the Ooma is certainly still a viable product, it's losing its integration with Google Voice. Even so, this article is worth reading to get a perspective about how these systems are changing and how our thought processes also changed over the years.

In the article that follows this, Google Voice and Skype: Rethinking GV and the landline handset solution, I'll take you through the Mark III setup, which is what we're using now.

Moving on to the next phase

My wife and I had been using Google Voice as our primary phone system for about a year. I've got to tell you, it was pretty touch-and-go there for a while. There were times when our patience was sorely taxed, and times when my wife and I thought we'd go back to landline, despite the benefits of Google Voice.

Even though I tried The cheapskate's guide to cheap VoIP, as it turned out, that solution sucked. The Obi device was a nice idea, but outgoing calls were always so static-filled that we got constant complaints. I knew we weren't alone, because the Obi forums were filled with similar complaints. Obi was kind enough to send me a second-generation box to look at, but by that time, we'd moved to the Ooma solution and didn't really want to experiment with Obi any further (although I have to say the people at the company were very earnest and very, very nice).

I also knew the crappy call problem wasn't our network's fault, because Jason Perlow and I did a pile of testing over Skype and the sound quality was excellent. I thought about building out a VoIP system through Skype, but there are almost no reasonable Skype gateway devices to POTS (plain ol' telephone system) phones and those that are available are sold through some very dicey looking companies (with loads of reliability and shipment complaints). That's a shame, because Skype would have rocked, especially since I use it so heavily for the studio.

So Skype was out — at least back then. As you'll see later, by rethinking the problem in a different way, Skype has become integral in our solution going forward. But it took time for that to become practical.

In 2012, Jason was using the Ooma, and he said he was generally happy with it. Of course, Jason wasn't trying to run multiple Google Voice lines through a single system, but I figured that Ooma was finally worth a look.

It's not the cheapskate's solution, but — after a ton of tweaking and the involvement of Ooma's senior techies — I had a pretty rockin' Google Voice solution. At least for a while.

Ooma basics

The Ooma Telo is a VoIP box, like the Obi. It's a box that sits between your network and a traditional phone handset or phone system. Unlike the Obi, which is fifty bucks (and no monthly fee), the Ooma Telo is $149 (it was $199 a year ago and $250 two years ago) with a variety of add-on fees for different features.

In fact, one of the problems of the Ooma is although the company claims that calls are free, there are a variety of little fees. None of them are particularly high, and you'll definitely save money over a traditional landline phone service, but it's a bit of a challenge to understand the fees on the Ooma web site.

There's a monthly fee that deals with tariffs, taxes, and 911, another for their Premier service, and others for additional phone numbers. Even adding all these up, the fees are substantially less than a base landline fee, but c'mon Ooma, couldn't you just put all the fees in one place on your Web site?

Anyway, don't get too carried away by the fees, because the Ooma is still a very cost-effective, solid answer to a powerful Google Voice environment.

Since I installed the Ooma Telo, Ooma introduced a more robust office product, the Ooma Office. At $249, it costs the same as the lower-end Telo did when it was first introduced.

The Ooma Office supports (theoretically) up to nine lines, but when Jason tried it out, it only supported four lines. Ooma tells me, "You are charged $19.98 for the first extension and phone number. Thereafter the pricing is $9.99/mo./phone number and $9.99/mo./extension (user)."

The final disadvantage of the Ooma Office as far as we're concerned for this project is that, unlike the Ooma Telo, it doesn't support Google Voice. That's a deal-breaker for us, but if you were looking for a non-Google Voice VoIP solution, the Ooma Office is pretty compelling.

The Ooma Telo

More great project ideas

DIY-IT Project Guide

DIY-IT Project Guide

Oh, before I go further, I want to tell you about two of my very favorite Ooma features: anonymous call reject and community call spam filtering. Basically, if you get a call from an anonymous number, one where there's no caller ID, or where the Ooma users have collectively decided was spam, the Ooma won't disturb you by ringing your phones.

You can choose to give the caller an opportunity to leave a message, and then the Ooma will email that message to you. In Florida, in an election season, the Ooma's anonymous call reject and spam blocking features (especially on top of Google Voice's own set of spam-blocking features) probably kept us sane.

Ooma is designed to be a standalone VoIP system, so their support of Google Voice is something of an afterthought. Ooma provides their own VoIP to landline calling, their own incoming set of phone numbers, and so forth.

When I started talking to the Ooma people about my project, I suggested they design a package specifically for Google Voice, since I really do think the Ooma may be the best Google Voice hardware solution out there. Two years later, and they're still only barely supporting Google Voice. More on that later.

Next up: Making two lines work...

I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: SMBs, Apps, Google, Mobility


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Brilliant Minds at Ooma

    Ooma Premier is $9.99/month or $119.99/year.
  • I'll stick with MagicJack I guess

    I've used the MagicJack for years for calls and faxes. It works fine. Now it doesn't even have to be attached to my computer anymore after set up.

    Spending $199 to start and over $100 a year annually, leaves MagicJack the true winner to me.
  • Vonage works

    Been using GV w/Vonage since the debut of GV in 2010. Had been using a 2 line Vonage acct that replaced land lines since 2005. INBOUND is simple. You simply direct GV to ring the Vonage # of choice; no involvement of Vonage folks was needed. GV just rings the handset/Vonage. Handset is plain old Uniden wireless.

    To make an OUTBOUND call from the physical handset/Vonage connection using GV, you still have to go thru the GV screen & pick up the handset to complete the call. If thru Ooma you can go outbound directly without going thru the GV screen on a computer, maybe that's an advantage; would need to look @ the cost which for my present setup is zero addl over base Vonage.
    • Yep, just a regular old handset

      I just use our old Panasonic handsets. To dial out with my wife's number, we just dial and the Google Voice number is displayed. To dial out with my number, I hit **2 (which I now do on autopilot) and my GV caller ID is displayed. That means if we call from bed, or the couch, or the office, or wherever, we don't need the PC or a smartphone to dial out and have the people we're calling see the GV number.

      That was probably the key reason we went with this approach. None of the people we call ever see the 555-1111, etc Ooma numbers like they would with Vonage.
      David Gewirtz
  • Static problem with both OBI and OOMA indicate the problem was not the OBI.

    Since you had static problems with both the OBI and the OOMA, it would seem that the static problem was not an issue with the OBI device. So it seems unfair to say the OBI device sucked, whereas the OOMA , only after getting extensive help from OOMA, which also sucked in the beginning, is a good solution. Did you give the OBI folks the same opportunity to fix your problem? In both cases did you tell them that you are a writer for ZDNET? It seems doubtful that regular users would have vendors bending over backward for them.

    I used your "Cheapskate" guide with great success using the OBI. As you described, the OBI was trivially easy to set up. I had some problems with static in the beginning, but this seems to be solved by setting the QOS (Quality Of Service) setting on my router. Bam, problem easily fixed for me! Other than that, the OBI has worked great, and nothing like the torturous fits you had to go through with the OOMA. I'd urge you to fiddle with the router QOS setting to see if that fixes your OBI problem. Skype and other services, such as Spotify, seems to be able to automatically configure port forwarding on some routers for optimal performance.

    I got great results from using your excellent instructions for using the OBI device, and I would hate to see a good service unfairly maligned if the problem were actually with an external factor such as QOS. I'm very happy with the OBI, and its ZERO monthly fees!
  • Ooma Vs Obihai Vs Vonage

    I am one of those thousands of happy users of Obihai. I have tried so many voip services over many years. Callcentric, Vonage, Ooma, Skype latest Obihai. I have been using it almost for the past one year. I couldn't be happier.

    How much do you pay for the Ooma service??? $200 upfront plus monthly charges for 911 recovery fee, taxes etc.. Huh. Vonage is same - you might shell out about $20 bucks minimum a month??

    Compare it with Obihai. Just pay 40 bucks - you get a land line free for life time. One minus is lack of 911 - but this could be fixed by using a callcentric account for about 1.50 a month. If you have mobile phone, which most of the people do have now you don't have to worry about 911.

    I have tried all these services mentioned, OOMA, Vonage, Obihai (Google Voice) call quality is in par. Google voice provides cheapest calls to many international destinations. What more - Obihai keep coming with innovative additions to their product line. Obihai 202 - the recent addition to their product line, sells at $75 in Amazon can do a lot more than Ooma or Vonage.

    Well - I am writing this so that reader could take informed decision when he moves to voip solution from the traditional pots line. There are a plenty of options out there.
  • OOMA

    I tried MagicJack for their trial period but was not that satisfied with the quality of the calls, some were good others were bad. Right now I am doing a trial period with OOMA with a little better results than with MagicJack. I purchased my OOMA at Costco for 149.99.
  • Ooma Can Be Totally Free

    I bought the Ooma Hub + Scout for about $180 about a year ago, soon after the Telo was released. The Ooma Hub can be completely free. No monthly fees or taxes. Zero -- that's what I pay. I say "can be" because -- according to various forum posts -- Ooma was selling several different version of the Hub, some with fees, some without, and the only way to make sure was to call Ooma support w/ the serial number and ask what the fees are. I did exactly that, and I have had no fees or taxes in over a year. I did pay ~$30 to port my number. I did a quick Google search and I see Ooma hubs are still available for purchase. My guess is that you can find one with zero fees/taxes.
  • Google Voice Integration - Caller ID & Caller Name

    Just wondering how to set up the Ooma Telo with Google voice so outgoing calls not only display the GV number but also the caller name. Right now my Google Voice calls show a number and instead of a name it shows "out of area". For business calls it is important that the correct name shows on the call recipients phone. Thanks!
  • Not so expensive

    This article makes the Ooma seem very expensive, but that's due to the techy voodoo with Google Voice.
    1) If you get an older white Ooma, there are no fees whatsoever. You can make and receive calls anywhere anyime at no cost except for the box. The newer black Telo's require that you pay taxes and fees. Randomly looking on Ooma's website at various zip codes the fees range from $5 - $7 per month.
    2) Premier service costs an extra $10 month. This includes a second line. So, I'm not sure why this Google experiment required an additional $4.99/month, but that would give you a third number.
    3)I'm always miffed when people compare the Magic Jack and the Ooma. I have a nearly blind 83 year old mother. She has an old white Ooma that costs her nothing. To make a call she just picks up her phone and dials. With Magic Jack she would have to make sure her computer is on. I also have an Ooma and I can't imagine booting up a computer to make a phone call. Yes, MJ is cheaper, but it's not equal.
    4)Ooma was easier to defend when there were no taxes (which again the old white box does not have.) If I were in the market now, I would certainly do the math and would consider other options. However, in no way would I downgrade to a crappy service like MJ and I would need the ease and quality that Ooma provides. If that costs extra then so be it. I'm not going to sit in front of my computer with a staticy connection just to save a few bucks.
  • Computer Doesn't Need To Be On

    The computer doesn't need to be on with the New Magic jack
  • Vonage vs. magicJack vs. Skype vs. ooma vs. Cable Which one is best?

    These days there are lots of alternatives to your pricey local phone service, this article will you sort through your options, more info at www.oomateloreviewk.com
    Lukman Halim
  • solved : headphone jack issue

    David, fantastic article! I am in the process of switching from Vonage to Ooma and I've been a Google Voice user since the days of GrandCentral. I wanted to provide an update on the lack of a headphone jack on your Ooma handset. The new Ooma HD2 handset provides a 2.5MM mono headphone jack for hands-free operation.
  • solved : headphone jack issue

    David, fantastic article! I am in the process of switching from Vonage to Ooma and I've been a Google Voice user since the days of GrandCentral. I wanted to provide an update on the lack of a headphone jack on your Ooma handset. The new Ooma HD2 handset provides a 2.5MM mono headphone jack for hands-free operation.
  • Device Configuration

    David, you mention in your article:

    "I'm still not sure what the problem was, but after another conference call to the Ooma team, they fiddled with something in my device's provisioning and their network, and the problem went away completely."

    If you could ask Ooma to check their records to see what they did it might give those of us experiencing similar issues a good place to start.

  • Obi vs. Ooma

    I've been an Ooma subscriber for several years, but I wasn't willing to shell out $120/year just for Google Voice connectivity. I spent $70 for an Obi 202, and I haven't looked back. The device has two analog phone ports and supports up to four VOIP providers (so, you could support four Google Voice accounts, with distinctive rings for each of them). For each GV account you could elect to ring one or both phone lines, and you have a variety of options for routing outgoing calls, too. Because the Obi supports SIP as well as Google Voice, you have much greater flexibility in phone service providers -- if you don't like Google Voice, you can sign up with a SIP service provider instead. And you can integrate the Obi with something like Asterisk if you want to get fancy.

    Voice quality has been just fine.

    I still have my Ooma, but it's been sitting around unplugged ever since I acquired the Obi.
  • App for making high quality voice calls

    With Smartgroschen you can enjoy High quality calls , Smartgroschen is easy & intuitive Perfect application for daily use. Good voice quality during calls
    and free chatting with friends.

    - free calls between Smartgroschen users,
    - free text chats,
    - free text chats with video clips attached,
    - free text chats with pictures attached like MMS,
    - geo target functionality,
    - short movie attachments,
    - audio attachments,
    - photo attachments,
    - delivery confirmation,
    - free conference calls,
    - free emoticons,
    - support for PUSH notifications. Push notifications guarantee that you never miss a call or message, even when Smartgroschen is off.
    - voicemail as mp3 to email delivery,
    - ALWAYS ON: Appear always online and be available to chat or free call,
    - the app syncs with your mobile contact list, automatically detecting who of your contacts has Smartgroschen,
    - Smartgroschen is free with no advertising,
    - cheap phone calls to all mobiles and landlines in the world from your tablet and smartphone, also without a sim card.
    IMPORTANT: you can try Smartgroschen phone calls to mobiles and landlines, because at start you get 0,50 euro gratis!
  • Google Voice Alternative

    Now you can replace your existing Google Voice phone number with a FreeDID from IPComms and continue receiving free inbound calls via your OBi device. You can even add our low 1¢/min domestic outbound service (TalkinIP) and enjoy quality USA & Canada outbound calling.
  • I just want Auto-Attendent and Virtual Receptionist with Google Voice

    How can I get a Free or very low cost Virtual receptionist or Auto-Attendent to work with Google Voice? That is the only missing piece... Press 1 to transfer to Sales, Press 2 for Hours and Directions, Press 3 for Website information, Press 4 for Technical Support, Press Zero for the Operator, Press 5 to dial by name, etc. Via Google Voice and that would forward to Virtual Extensions and Cellphones, etc. at no or low cost. OOMA seemed to have that for Ooma business, but I don't like paying $10/month for cellphone or virtual extensions of landlines.