Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Review: Unlimited US Telephone Calling With Ooma VOIP?

Recently new to the market, newcomer Ooma has debuted offering unlimited US calling and no monthly fee.

What's different about Ooma from other services that offered yearly unlimited calling or no monthly fee service is that Ooma is setup to offer premier services, which they do charge a monthly fee for, as well as overseas calling.

What do you get with Ooma?

Ooma is a hardware device that allows you to make and receive calls through your high speed internet service. Basically, you plug in the hub to your router and plug your phone into the hub. That's basically it.

Each hub also comes with a 'scout', a smaller version of the hub, that you can plug in at other locations in your home. You basically plug it in between the wall jack and your phone and it will work with the Ooma service.

The basic service also comes with a free 60 day trial of the premier service.

With the basic Ooma service you get:
  • Unlimited 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 fee
  • 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
  • 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
For a monthly fee of $12.99 (currently), you can get these additional services:
  • Free number porting: Transfer an existing number for free with an annual subscription to ooma Premier
  • Multi-Ring: Simultaneously ring or forward your ooma number to your mobile phone, or any number you choose
  • Message screening: Screen your calls by listening in as a caller is leaving their message
  • Voicemail forwarding: Have your voicemail automatically forwarded to email
  • Instant Second Line™: Make a second call even when someone else is on the phone (requires ooma Scout)
  • Enhanced call-waiting: Answer an incoming call even when someone else is on the phone (requires ooma Scout)
  • Three-way conferencing: Conference two lines together at a push of a button
  • Send to Voicemail: Transfer a call to voicemail at a touch of a button
  • Do Not Disturb: Transfer all incoming calls directly to voicemail at a touch of a button
  • Personal numbers: Select additional phone numbers in any calling area in the US
  • Directed ringing: Create private extensions which are dedicated to a personal number
  • Private voicemail: Create private voicemail and Lounge accounts dedicated to a personal number
  • Distinctive ringing: Control the ring pattern based on a personal number

How does it compare with other VOIP services?

Everyone I've heard from has had excellent experiences with not only the service, but easy setup. But the main difference most users are enjoying is the lack of a monthly fee. The call quality has been reported to be excellent without any choppiness or echoes sometimes experienced with other VOIP services.

It's also been highly recommended in the media, reviews and by existing users.

While voicemail is available with all VOIP services standard, Ooma offers unique access to your voicemail directly from the hub and scout units making checking your voicemail messages easy and much more convenient than any other VOIP service I've found. The voicemail feature is quite flexible offering the option to record your conversations as well as standard voicemail features offered elsewhere.

What are the down sides?

There don't seem to be many cons to Ooma. You do have to pay $39.99 to keep your existing number (transfer it to Ooma) and adding a fax line is not guaranteed to work. You can set up an additional dedicated phone number as your fax line to get around that, but Ooma tells you you may need to turn your fax on manual answer to not interfere with their multiple line calling system. If you need a dedicated fax, you may want to check into this further. An alternative is using an email fax service which is much more cost effective, flexible and environmentally friendly as well.

Bottom Line

If you're looking to save a significant amount on your telephone service and you already have high speed internet access, Ooma looks like an excellent choice to switch to. Unless you need additional features like distinctive ringing, forwarding voicemail, message screening and private numbers, you can stay with the basic service package and enjoy free telephone service. Although even if you opt for the premium service, at $12.99 a month, it's a small price to pay and most likely much less than any other true VOIP service on the market today.

Learn more about Ooma.


> Buy.com currently has the lowest price on the Ooma

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Compare Complete VOIP Small Business Telephone Solutions

I recently found out how many different small business telephone solutions are available today when I was asked to help recommend and install a phone system for a small company.

In my research, I chose to focus on VOIP solutions for several reasons:
  1. low cost
  2. ease of installation
  3. convenience of online management
After much background research and comparisons, I narrowed my search down to two providers, Packet 8 and RingCentral.

Here are the benefits of each:

Packet 8

Packet 8 offers both VOIP telephone equipment and service for a reasonable monthly cost. The phone equipment is well designed, fairly easy to use and plugs in using normal RJ11 telephone jacks. High speed internet access is required and the routers connect your telephone lines to your cable modem.

All phone lines are managed online through a control panel, which is a bit confusing at first, where you can modify your settings, phone extensions and system functions.

You can also add dedicated voip fax lines as well by adding an additional router you can purchase from Packet 8.

All plans include unlimited calling in the US, advanced call forwarding, outlook integration, and an auto attendant option that basically manages your incoming calls and routes them to any phone in your system. Each physical phone has a direct number as well as an extension that is available through the attendant.

You can either rent the telephone equipment or purchase it outright.

There are many service plans that start at $39.99 (auto attendant and single phone) depending on where you'd like to call and whether you want to rent or purchase the telephone equipment.

Customer service is available Monday-Saturday during working hours.


RingCentral is setup differently by providing all services except VOIP digital telephone through an online control panel allowing you to get started within minutes of signing up. RingCentral is basically a virtual PBX where you either setup a new business phone number in area code available (or transfer an existing number) and allows you to setup how your callers will be directed without any hardware or equipment.

You can have extensions going to phone numbers anywhere in the world, setup custom greetings, voicemail, setup rules based on time of day, dial by name directories, call forwarding, call screening, music or personalized recorded messages on hold, call screening, caller id, click to call from your web site, outlook integration, call logs, fax on demand, email fax, calling card function and many more.

Service plan costs start at $9.99 a month although you'll most likely end up with the more robust plan at $24.99 which is very reasonable for the features offered. VOIP digital telephone service is available for as little as $4.99 a month and is available in addition to the RingCentral Virtual PBX service.

A 30 day free trial is currently available without obligation. It's one of the only services I found where you can try it and if it's not for you, you can just cancel and walk away.

Support is available 24 hours a day and is quite helpful.

Bottom Line

In comparing these two services I took the following into consideration.

The company I was helping already had phone lines and numbers active in their office and had many contractors working with them throughout the country. The office was small and the principals often worked from home and traveled.

With these factors the RingCentral plan made the most sense for their company. I recommended the Digital VOIP service for their physical office and the RingCentral virtual PBX service that would manage all their incoming calls through one phone number. They could choose to add a toll free number (currently RingCentral is offering 800 numbers at no cost) or user their existing business telephone number.

The positive testimonials and press that RingCentral has received is hard to overlook and gave me comfort in making the recommendation.

If the company was new and didn't already have existing equipment, the Packet 8 service may have been a cost effective alternative, depending on how many 'virtual' employees or contractors were involved.