TechBite: A Nifty Way to Make Free Internet Calls


By Steve Bass

Ooma: Free Internet Calls

Ooma is a
sure-fire winner for letting home users make free calls
within the United States and pennies per call overseas.

Pick up the phone and you’ll hear a familiar dial tone
(not that anyone dials anymore; heck, few people under 30
even get what that means). And once you’re connected, the
voice quality is remarkable — as good as your landline —
and better if you call another Ooma user

Costco sells the Ooma for $179; Amazon’s
price is closer to $200. You can connect your existing
landline to Ooma — corded or cordless — or buy Ooma’s

cordless handset

I have lots of disclaimers, though, things for you to
consider before sending your landline to the landfill.

Ooma Telo with handset

Have a Static IP? Oy Vey

If you have broadband — DSL, cable, or fiber — and a
simple setup, say, a run-of-the-mill router, Ooma will
work perfectly. I tried installing it at a neighbor’s
house and Ooma was up and running, and I was talking, in
about 20 minutes.

If you have a complicated system like mine, with multiple
routers, switches, and — this one’s important — a static
IP address, Ooma will also work perfectly — eventually.
But you’ll have to tweak and fiddle, reconfigure and
unconfigure, and do a little Irish jig while standing on
one foot and whistling Dixie.

Let’s Get Technical

For those of you technically-minded: Ooma wants the prime
location — right after the cable- or DSL-modem — instead
of letting the router have the spot. That way Ooma gets
the best, highest-bandwidth signal; all the other devices
on the network are next in line.

That arrangement’s fine if your router’s using a dynamic
IP address and DHCP

It’s more complicated when your router is set up with a
static IP []
address. Ooma insists on having that static IP address —
remember, it’s first in line — and the router is treated
as just another device on the network, and must revert
back to DHCP.

As a work-around, I connected the Ooma directly to the
router, making it now, unhappily, second in line. The
voice quality wasn’t nearly as good as it could be, until
I spent another hour changing the router’s QoS settings
and opening selective ports. Then I tried the Ooma and the
voice quality was superb.

My total investment? Four hours of diddling. I had to
kvetch and e-mailed a senior Ooma tech person:

“Here’s my conclusion: Average users with a simple
broadband configuration may not have any setup problems.
But the task of setting up the Ooma with a static IP
address means reconfiguring the router; ultimately, it’s
exceedingly time consuming and a far more difficult task
than an average user can — or should — handle.”

Her remarkably frank reply:

“Your analysis is pretty much correct. Ooma isn’t for
everyone and those with a more complicated network can
find it problematic if they do not have the full knowledge
needed to make each device co-exist happily or wish to
make the necessary changes to their environment to make
the system work.

“Those that do invest the time typically get it up and
running, but for the most part, the more devices they have
in line, the more room for error they leave.

“As a simple residential product, it may not be up to task
for the small business user who has a mildly complex

Some Before-You-Buy Ooma Decisions

If you’re still reading, and still intrigued, you have
some things to think about before you purchase the Ooma.

During the online activation process, you can move your
existing phone number to the Ooma. It costs $40, but it’s
free if you purchase a one-year Ooma Premier
[] $10 per month
service. That’s a smart idea if you plan to disconnect
your landline. (Click the link above to learn about
Premier’s terrific features.)

On the other hand, if you plan to keep your landline, Ooma
will give you a new local number that’s used exclusively
for the Ooma.

Whether to use the Ooma with your existing landline or cut
the cord with Ma Bell can be a difficult decision. The
advantage of keeping the landline is you always have a
hard-wired connection, critical if you need to call 911.
That’s because if the Internet goes down (and when does
that ever happen?), or your power goes out, Ooma won’t

I want to emphasize that. If you rely solely on Ooma and
an Internet connection, your link to 911 ends when the
connection ends.

With a landline, and an old phone that doesn’t need power
to operate, you have the assurance of a phone connection.
Your other option, of course, is to have an inexpensive
mobile phone handy.

Ooma: Keep Thinking

There are a bunch of other issues to consider, things that
a buyer making what I think is a significant technology
change, ought to know about. Unfortunately, Ooma’s site
doesn’t always make this information easy to find.

* The Ooma has a built-in answering machine and the
device needs to be located near your Internet modem. So
unless you’re using Ooma’s cordless handset
[], you’ll have
to go to that location to check for messages.

* Ooma suggests that if you have a home alarm system
that uses a phone line, keep the landline.

* Read the Ooma FAQ
if you use a fax.

* Unless you subscribe to Ooma Premium
[] service ($120 per
year), you’ll need to pay monthly taxes and fees. Mine
calculated to a little over $40 per year, making the
premium service — and its extensive features — almost
worth the money.

* Ooma includes their premium service for two months and
then, and oh-how-I-hate-it forces you to opt-out in
order not to pay the $10 per month fee.

* They limit you to 5000 outgoing minutes
] per month, a number I don’t think most
people will use. Not a problem unless you’re running a
call center.

My Take on Ooma

The Ooma is a fine product with excellent voice quality
and nifty features. if you can do without a landline and
have a cheapo mobile phone for backup, Ooma can probably
pay for itself in a couple of years. I encourage you to
buy and try one from a store that will let you return it
without penalty.

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