Monday, March 2, 2009

ooma VoIP

Launched in 2007 in Palo Alto, California, the state-based company introduced a whole new concept in VoIP telephony. By purchasing a so-called ooma Hub, very much resembling an answering machine, the customer is promised lifetime, unlimited long-distance phone calls within the U.S. thus avoiding any binding contracts or monthly fees (with the exception of ooma Premier, but I will get to that later).

ooma’s creative director Ashton Kutcher together with it’s chief marketing officer Rich Buchanan, have been able to steer the still young company away from near failure in the Spring of 2008. The fight for survival is not over, however. With a polished image and by reducing the prices for the ooma Hub and the ooma Scout (for use with secondary lines within the household), ooma Inc. capitalized on its strength of offering peer-to-peer access through high quality VoIP technology, but without the need to use a computer, download any software or use a headset.

With the use of the ooma Hub and existing conventional telephones, the current phone service is replaced and the customer can then enjoy unlimited calls within the United States. There is a small catch though. With a limit of 3000 outbound minutes per month, abuse by call centers or use for commercial purposes is discouraged. International calls are of course possible at rates beginning at 1.4 cent per minute up to 18.9 cents per minute, varying from country to country.

The main “catches” to the whole concept are the following:
  • The ooma Hub is available at a one-time price of $249.99 (at the time of writing this post, the Scout was included free-of-charge for a limited time …)
  • If the customer wants to maintain the previous telephone number, a one-time fee of $39.99 is charged.
  • ooma Premier offers various enhanced calling features and costs $99.99/year or $12.99/month after the free 60 day trial for all new customers who decide to keep this service. A free-of-charge transferring of the available number (usually costing $39.99) is offered for those who sign up for a one year subscription of ooma Premier.
  • The ooma system is only available in selected Best Buy and Wal-Mart stores in California, through or through ooma’s own website.
Aside from these possibly disadvantageous issues mentioned above, an interesting feature is the possibility to use the ooma Hub in other countries, thus maintaining the “free calls in America” advantage by keeping the U.S. number, making calls placed to the United States free – but, those calls made “in country” (respectively, outside of any other country other than the U.S.) are subject to the international rates. The use of the system is also subject to the associated fees, taxes, tariffs and legal penalties of international law. Special note should be made, that the system is built for US power specifications meaning that it can only be used in combination with a transformer.

All in all, a very innovative enterprise and winning the Best of Digital Life Award in the Hardware Innovator of 2007 category, and the CES Innovations Design and Engineering Honoree Award in 2009, promising an interesting alternative to rate-bound VoIP telephony in the United States of America.

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