VoIP telephony solution put through its paces (April 3rd, 2014)
Product Manufacturer: Ooma
Price: $249 for hardware and $20 per month per line
- Excellent voice quality
Ease of configuration
Myriad of setup options
- Only available when Internet is
Incompatibility with some networking gear
Voice over IP (VoIP) services have been around for a very long time. Only recently has the implementation become a bit more robust, allowing for businesses to shift the majority of their telephony to the devices. One of the foremost devices in the field right now is the Ooma Office suite. The hardware promises to revolutionize all office communications for a lower monthly price than traditional telecommunications providers. Can it really do all it claims to?
Ooma Office is a service designed for small businesses that includes free calling in the US and Canada, but with several additional features found in many traditional big-business phone systems such as a "virtual receptionist," phone extensions with direct caller access, call transfer, music while on hold, ring groups, and conference bridge. A one-time hardware purchase is required.
Setup is extraordinarily simple. Before installation, users are required to create an account and activate the Ooma Office base unit through the Ooma website. The initial setup is where phone number selection or migration takes place, as well as address information entry for E911 services. The initial registration for the service took less than four minutes, with email responses to registration arriving nearly instantaneously.
Ooma recommends that the device be placed between an Internet modem or Fiber ONT and a router for Internet service. When the blue light on the front of the Ooma Office base station illuminates, then the device is configured, and users can move on to the next step of installation -- the Ooma Linx devices for each phone line.
Linx devices resemble nothing more than a DC "wall wart," so common to electronics aficionados. Each Linx has a unique identifier, and users need only connect back to the Ooma homepage to add the Linx to the system. Users then plug the Linx into the wall, hit the page button on the base unit, and wait for the telltale blue light informing users that all is well.
MacNN Labs is located in a very dense area, with many sources of wireless broadcasts including other telephony solutions, abundant Wi-Fi, and even US government networks. Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies are notoriously short-ranged because of all the other local sources. In our extended trial with the device, we had no connectivity issues, or any signal degradation in calls that couldn't be attributed to an over-saturated Internet connection.
We used a panel of five testers to evaluate the call quality of the Ooma Office. We called a traditional land-line, wireless phones from both AT&T and Verizon, as well as another Ooma Office user. All of our testers are avid Skype or FaceTime users, and all found the sound quality to be excellent, limited only by the quality of the receiving user. We did forcibly saturate the Internet connection during some of the tests, and only under the most punishing of TCP/IP stack fills were there any dropouts at all.
Shifting methodology a bit for install, we tried installing the Ooma Office inside the router, and allocated it to be outside the firewall. The configuration worked, with no flaws, but it still isn't a recommended setup. Over time, we have found the less complex the network setup for telephony, the better the experience.
We played with the Ooma Office manager portal extensively. An administrative user can configure specific settings for each extension, like voicemail, call forwarding, and the rest of the advanced features. Up to 10 lines can be configured, five of which can be assigned to phones, with the rest for voicemail and the like.
The Ooma Office "Virtual Receptionist" is amazingly well-constructed, and easy to manage on the web portal. Users can configure greetings, manage extensions, define business hours, pass time-dependent information to callers, and even upload hold music.
We'd like to point out what we feel is the best single feature of the Ooma Office -- the voicemail. Properly configured, voicemail can email users with a contained MP3 file of the voicemail for the user to listen to anywhere, and not just at the office. This is a feature nicely aimed at the jet-setters, where a Wi-Fi connection may be a better option than international roaming on a cellphone.
The only problem we had (briefly) was a stubborn incompatibility with our first-generation FiOS ONT box on the exterior of our building. Regardless of what we tried, the PPPoE connection, or some other undetermined hardware incompatibility with the box, absolutely flummoxed our initial setup. After a battery of calls to Verizon and Ooma, we got the ONT replaced with newer gear, and the resultant TCP/IP connection. After the box was replaced, we had no networking-related issues whatsoever.
Internet providers are often conventional telephone providers as well. Users may be on an IP-based service and not even know it. Where the Ooma Office stands out is the low $250 barrier to entry for the starter hardware, and the $20 per line fee, which is significantly cheaper than many small business solutions. The Virtual Receptionist can handle most all features that a human one can, if a bit less personally.
While IBM won't be looking to this Ooma product to handle its communications, we like the Ooma Office for its flexibility, wealth of configuration options, and amazing call quality. We've found it to be well-suited to a growing small office's telephone needs, or possibly even a home with many adults sharing a single phone line, possibly in a rental home.