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One of the least pleasant realities of modern life is the monthly utility bill. No individual or business enjoys the cost or the unpredictability of, for example, the monthly phone bill.
So how much would it be worth to someone to completely do away with the monthly phone bill and never have to pay for phone calls ever again? According to a company called ooma, it's worth around $399.
That's because ooma is offering a unique VOIP (voice over IP) proposition. Users purchase a ooma hub device for $399 and then can make unlimited calls in the United States without ever paying a monthly bill again.
I had the opportunity to test out the ooma service for the last few weeks and have mostly been impressed with their offering. Along with the standard phone service, it provides a built-in second line that allows for two simultaneous calls and has very good voice mail features.
Probably the biggest drawback to ooma is the requirement for extra scout units to enable service to every phone in your home or office. The initial purchase includes one scout so two phones can hook up, counting the hub and the one scout, but additional scouts would need to be purchased for each extra phone.
While ooma is certainly attractive for home use I think the area where it is most attractive is in SOHO and small business environments. In these environments, being able to pay a onetime nominal fee and then have no monthly bills is an excellent option and the business telecom features of the ooma hubs and scouts are a plus.
It was simple to get up and running with my ooma hub and scout. The hub includes ports for connecting to the network or directly to a broadband modem, and also includes ports for a phone and to connect to the phone lines in the home. The scout connects to the home phone lines and to a telephone and does require its own power outlet, which in some homes can limit where the scouts can go.
Once connected, I could make and receive calls on my ooma connected phones (when picking up one of these phones you hear a unique ooma dial tone rather than the standard dial tone).
One of the coolest features is the second line capability. If one person is on one phone the ooma devices light up line one. Someone picking up another phone can make a separate call by hitting the line two button.
Ooma also has nice voice messaging capabilities, making it simple to screen calls and listen to and save messages. Through the online ooma lounge service, I could also log in anywhere online and listen to voice messages from my browser (in the ooma lounge it is also possible to make account changes).
By default, ooma calls are anonymous, which can be a problem when calling people who block calls that don't send caller ID information, though I could change this default in the lounge or by hitting *82 on the phone.
One of the unique aspects of the VOIP service that ooma provides is that all the devices work as a kind of peer to peer network. Each ooma device connects to others to expand the networks capabilities.
While domestic calls on ooma are completely free, international calls are not free. To make international calls I could log into the lounge and for example, add $10 to my account to handle the fees for any international calls I might make.
Click here to listen to my interview with ooma CEO Andrew Frame.