How Ooma Works
ooma works on P2P, a bit like Skype, but has the big advantage of not requiring a PC to work. Your calls are channeled through other ooma hubs, thus eliminating the need to bank on the PSTN structure, and hence the free calls.
In order to use Ooma, you need to have a high-speed Internet connection, and a phone line. And yes, in order to be able to make free unlimited calls to any phone, you need to be in the US, as using the Ooma box outside the US to make free unlimited calls is possible only when the calls are made to Ooma box users, wherever they are in the world.
When it launched, the price was quite high - $400 reached $600. In April 2008, ooma realized the price was a major hurdle in the way of potential clients and reviewed the price down to $250. The bundle includes one hub and one scout. An additional scout costs $59.
At this price, the break-even time gets down to a single year, if you compare it with a classic monthly service like Vonage. Anything after that year becomes completely free, forever. Now, 'forever' is limited to as long as ooma is around and is able to offer the same service. There was also the issue of the 'foreverness' defined as three years by ooma, time after which the state of the service was quite blurred. I inquired about that (among many other things) with Dennis Peng, co-founder of ooma, who said, "The 'three-year' clause was an unfortunate misunderstanding and has been removed from the terms and conditions. ...the language was being misconstrued to mean that we would start to charge for the service after 3 years. We have no plans to do so, so we removed that wording from the terms and conditions and the 'core' functionality associated with the purchase of the hardware will be provided for the life of the ooma Hub device."
Making international calls are pre-paid, but the rates are quite low, comparable to the best VoIP rates around.
Specifications And Features
ooma devices have got the look. The hub and scout are very nicely designed, with clean, simple, shiny and attractive shapes and buttons. Well, tastes are subjective, so see the pictures on top of this page. The design is also quite user-friendly, with one-touch options.
The setting up is a breeze. It is only a matter of plugging in. Real plug and play.
Ooma is not rich in features, and the only ones that come with the basic service are Caller-ID, call-waiting and enhanced digital voicemail. E911 is also supported. According to Dennis Peng, ooma had to make the product and value proposition easier to understand and more accessible to the general public, so they focused the base product on "free calling" instead of trying to bundle the "free calling" aspect with the enhanced feature set, which, according to Dennis, most people have a hard time understanding the value of until they try it.
If you want more features, you can try the paid ooma Premier service, for $99 a year.
ooma can be attached to a landline, but since it is a standalone service, it does not need to be attached to one. The pricing for both ways is the same. In the latter case, new users are given phone numbers, which they can even port from earlier services, against a one time fee. If you choose the standalone option, you get to choose a new phone number in any calling area in the US for free.
Because ooma has a standalone option, users can use the device outside the US. Calls between subscribers are always free, so one can place free international calls if both parties have an ooma box.
The service does not offer many features, unlike classic services. This is understandable if you think of the free calls being offered, as explained above. But if you are used to the many VoIP features, you might be a little bit annoyed, in which case you will want to consider the premium, feature-packed service.
While ooma is very easy to setup and use, but it is quite closed. It is for people who want hassle-free communication, without any need or want to fiddle about with the system. It is not flexible and has a rather closed architecture. Most users don't care, except geeks.
Free unlimited calling to any phone number is possible only within the US.
Bottom LineIf you are not in the US, Ooma is not really for you. If you are, then you have there an excellent opportunity to eliminate your monthly bills on phone communication. Since you are unsure about whether the service will be worth it, you can try it with the money-back guarantee. But then $250 is quite a sum to spend, specially knowing that if ever ooma ceases to offer the service or simply ceases to exist, or else if quality drops with increasing users, you will be left with useless devices. A second thought will counterbalance that, that you will be breaking even with the price after only a year, after which you will lose nothing whatever happens, but will have calls for free if ooma keeps on.
There are points in the US where you can buy ooma from, but you can also easily buy it online, for quite cheap. Compare best prices here.