Ooma Telo and Home Phone Service review

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It won’t be long before the wire-line telephone system finally gets turned off.  Now would be a good time to make the move to either using your cell as your primary phone or, as in my case, move over to VOIP ( voice over INTERNET protocol ).  If you are a regular reader of The Gadgeteer, you know I’ve been championing VOIP for awhile.   I’ve tested several different vendors and have subscribed to a couple of others.  For the past 3 years I’ve been using an Ooma Telo with their Premier service and I’d like to share the good and not so good experiences.To begin, I’d like to set some expectations.  I’ve done this in other VOIP reviews, but somehow the same questions come up.  Firstly, you will need broadband INTERNET to use the Ooma or any VOIP service for that matter.  Each provider recommends a minimum up and download speed for reliable operation.  In the case of Ooma they suggest upstream of 256kbps.  Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable if my speeds were at minimum.  There’s just too much opportunity for the connection to drop below minimum. Next, if you lose power or your Internet service, you won’t have any phone service.

I’ve addressed the loss of power by connecting the Telo, router, modem and phone to battery backups.  In the event of a power failure I have up to 60 minutes to get the generator fired up before my phone goes dark.  If I lose the Internet or power, with Ooma Premier you can have an automatic forward to another number.  In my case this is to a cell phone.

The box the Ooma comes in states “Free Home Phone Service”, which isn’t completely true.  On the website they expand this statement to say “free nationwide calling”.  You still have to buy the Ooma device and pay monthly taxes and fees.  Also on the box it says “unlimited nationwide calling” which is another stretch.  Unlimited in Ooma talk is 5,000 outgoing minutes per month.  In all fairness, most VOIP vendors have the same restriction.  It’s not a showstopper, but you should be aware.

Ooma is both a piece of hardware (Telo) and a service which comes in two levels: basic and Premier.  Upon initial activation, you will be given a 60 day trial of the Premier service.  Mark the end date of the trial on your calendar because you’ll have to cancel if you no longer want it, otherwise it will automatically renew.

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The Telo is really a multi-function device.  It’s an ATA (analog telephone adapter), answering machine and router.  The soft touch buttons on the device can be used play messages, select a second line call, control the volume, etc:.  The flower symbol in the middle indicates the status of your connection.  If it’s blue you’re OK and red signifies loss of connection. telo03

In the back are the connections for Internet, phone, power and a USB port for options available from Ooma, which include a Bluetooth adapter for cell phone integration, or a wireless adapter to allow the Telo to be situated remotely from the modem or router.

Basic Features:

  • Free US Calling
  • Voicemail
  • Port your current phone number ($39.99 fee)
  • 911 Service
  • International calling (charges vary per minute)
  • Online call log
  • Caller ID and waiting
  • One touch voice mail access
  • New number available in most US area codes
  • My Ooma online portal to listen to messages and change preferences
  • Free Ooma to Ooma calling worldwide
  • Wireless adapter ($49.99) to place Telo anywhere in range of your wireless network

Premier has the following additional features:

  • Free calling to Canada
  • Three way conferencing
  • Caller name
  • Do Not Disturb
  • Community blacklist
  • Call forwarding
  • Voicemail to email audio forwarding
  • Instant second line (with Ooma purchased device)
  • Backup number (in case of power or Internet failure)
  • Voicemail monitoring
  • Personal Blacklist
  • Anonymous call blocking
  • Multi-ring
  • Voicemail  alerts
  • Send to voicemail
  • Private device (using Ooma purchased additional device)
  • Free second number
  • Google voice extensions

The basic features are “free” except that you will pay monthly taxes and fees, which vary depending on your State of residence.  In my case I pay $3.79 for the fees and $9.99 for Premier per month.  There is a page on the Ooma website where you can enter your zip code to calculate the fees required.

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Before you’re able to use the Telo, you will have to go through the online activation process.  This should take no more than 15 minutes.  Here you’ll pick a phone number, fill out some personal details and give a credit card number for the monthly fees and taxes.  At the end of this process you will have an online account and are ready to plug in the Telo. You’ll need to plug the Telo into your local area network or between your broadband modem and router.  The latter is the preferred method of connection from Ooma.  In this configuration the Telo will control the QOS (quality of service) and give the Telo priority over other devices on the LAN.  For most simple  home networks this will probably work, but in my case, with over 25 nodes, it caused issues.  I connected the Telo into a free Ethernet port on a switch and with a little tweaking of the Telo parameters, everything worked fine.

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Here’s my setup in my “messy” home office.  Because the Ooma needs to be within close proximity to an Ethernet connection and for another reason, explained below, I eventually opted to set it near the router which is near the broadband modem.  The disadvantage of this configuration is that being on the second floor and away from most of the daily living areas, it’s not easy to use the functions of the Telo box eg: answering machine.

If you want the Telo box remote from your router or modem, you can opt to purchase the wireless adapter. At the beginning, I had the Telo device situated on my first floor near where we mostly hang out, but I used a pair of powerline Ethernet adapters to extend the LAN.  It’s cheaper than the Ooma wireless adapter and in my opinion more reliable.  Unfortunately I had to move the box upstairs and away from the cats and visiting ankle biters.

Those soft touch controls on the box are too sensitive and the cats and kids would run their paws over them, which either turned off the speaker or the illumination or both.  The main disadvantage now is I can’t monitor incoming calls or play messages on the Telo when I’m not in the office.  I can use a connected telephone to play messages, but it’s not as convenient. Three years ago when I first subscribed to Ooma I had some issues.

Installation was a snap, but I was having call quality problems.  With the help of the support people at Ooma and advice from a dedicated group of users on the Ooma forums, I was able to straighten the issue out.  The support experience hasn’t been perfect.  I have asked a technical question and have received a prompt reply with a totally tangential answer.  However, persistence paid off and I would finally get a good result.  Just recently I was going around in circles on the chat line with a support person.  I regaled my tale in the forums and eventually I received a call from an Ooma rep with a very impressive title.  He made everything clear.  I never got that sort of service from my land-line provider.

The voice quality in my experience has been excellent.  I don’t have quality issues that are normally associated with a VOIP service such as, dropped calls, echos, missing words and 2 way radio type communication.  I opted for the Premier service because I use the features extensively and my monthly outlay is still way below what POTS (plain old telephone service) would cost.

To me, Ooma is a great alternative to the old phone company.  If you’re only looking to supplement your cell phone use with a fixed line and don’t need a bunch of features, go with the basic service and it’ll cost you about $4 a month.  Here’s a tip.  Keep your eye out for discounted Telo prices.  I’ve seen them on Woot and other sites for much less than list.

 

Product Information

Price:$149.99 for Telo, $9.99 per month for Premier service plus taxes and fees
Manufacturer:Ooma
Retailer:Ooma
Requirements:
  • Broadband Internet
  • Telephone handset(s)
Pros:
  • Great alternative to landline phone service
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to install for the technically challenged
  • Extensive feature set
Cons:
  • None
Posted in: Reviews, Wireless

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • Sandee Cohen March 16, 2014, 9:06 am

    The first sentence, “It won’t be long before the wire-line telephone system finally gets turned off.” worries me.

    Does that include the phone service I get from Time/Warner?

    I also find it hard to believe that Verizon would abandon all those people using their
    FiOS service.

    1
  • Bill Kuch March 16, 2014, 10:47 am

    Sandee,

    Have no fear. The service provided by Time Warner and Verizon FIOS are VOIP based and are replacing the ancient wire-line a.k.a. POTS (plain old telephone) service that is slowly going away. Instead of paying the telephone company $30 per month for limited phone service you can now pay the cable company the same amount, albeit with more features and a larger free calling area.

    In my case, Comcast will provide me phone service for $39.95 per month on top of my already expensive cable/Internet bill. Ooma, offers a competing phone product at less than half the price.

    2
  • Really March 17, 2014, 6:38 am

    Can you explain what you mean by “It won’t be long before the wire-line telephone system finally gets turned off.”?
    Thanks.

    3
  • Bill Kuch March 17, 2014, 8:14 am

    There are many articles in the press about the ultimate demise of the POTS telephone network. Here’s one that explains it in some detail.

    http://www.esaweb.org/blogpost/703019/172657/AT-T-Executive-Asks-Congress-to-Support-the-End-of-POTS.

    In my case, I made the transition 9 years ago. Over those years I’ve experimented with different vendors and, as the review states, I’ve settled on Ooma for the time being.

    4
  • Pam T. March 17, 2014, 11:09 am

    I opted for the Ooma a little over a year ago when I decided bluetoothing the cell phones to a home phone system wasn’t working out well – horrible call quality. I didn’t want to pay $40 a month for a landline system anymore.

    Ooma has worked out well. Like Bill, I pay for the Premier service, because I get tons of features for lots less than standard POTS service. I didn’t have to do any real tweaking to get the system to work well out of the box. Occasionally I will drop a call mid-conversation, but I’m not sure if it’s my home network or the far-end cell phone’s fault.

    I recommend Ooma as one of the best VOiP considerations out there. Best tech choice I’ve made in recent memory.

    5
  • d.Fulton March 17, 2014, 3:09 pm

    Great article.
    I have a small business,. Some questions you may not be able answer

    Since our local phone company went to the 10 digit number dialing we are having problem with incoming calls from long distance companies I assume Ooma will clear all this up. I have 5 mg service, is this fast enough for the Ooma to work on ?

    I have multiple 2 lines phones (with intercoms), one line for business and one line for home, I hate to lose the use of these. These ring both to the house and the office about 100 yards apart. I’ll port over the business line but I want to keep the house on a land line, is this some thing I can work out. Id like the option of being able to answer the phones in either location.

    Article mentions a Second line with optional device?

    I also I have a 800 number for incoming order that rings to the business line, will I be able to still do this (800 company will still get paid for incoming)
    thanks Dave

    6
  • Bill Kuch March 17, 2014, 4:32 pm

    Hi David,

    I’m on the road at the present. Your best bet is to go on the Ooma website and look at Ooma for business. I didn’t cover this in the review, but it’s meant for people like you. If you don’t get the answers you need, get back to me and I’ll try to answer.

    7
  • Missy May 8, 2014, 3:29 pm

    Where are you located? I have heard issues of those being on the east coast having delay and issues with quality due to the ooma server being in California.

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  • Bill Kuch May 8, 2014, 3:41 pm

    Missy,

    I’m in New Hampshire. I don’t think the location of Ooma’s servers has any bearing on quality. My calls are as clear or better than the old traditional telephone providers.

    9
  • Dan June 29, 2014, 10:17 pm

    Can you connect several standard traditional handsets to the Telo device or will it handle only one?

    10
  • Bill Kuch July 8, 2014, 6:09 pm

    dan,

    Sorry for the late reply. I’ve been at my 3rd world cabin without net access for awhile. To your question, I have connected 2 traditional telephones to the Ooma with no issue. I would contact them to get the REN (Ringer Equivalency Number) though. In my case, I have multiple handsets using a wireless base station phone system.

    11
  • Austin August 24, 2014, 12:06 am

    Hello,

    I live in La Porte Indiana 46350. Does Ooma operate in this area?

    Thank You.

    12
  • Julie Strietelmeier August 24, 2014, 9:25 am

    @Austin please contact Ooma for answers to questions like this one. We’re not a support site and do not sell this product. We just reviewed it.

    13
  • Bill Kuch August 24, 2014, 9:27 am

    As long as you have braodband internet, it should work. Check on the Ooma website to make sure they have numbers in your area code or are able to port your current number.

    14
  • Conrad Ray Laughinghouse September 19, 2014, 10:13 am

    I ordered the Ooma and got it very fast.

    Setup was fast and easy but my radio ISP did not support the system which was NOT the fault of the Ooma.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of returning the Ooma and having a credit issued to my credit card.

    Nice to know there are still some honest companies out there.

    15

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