Home and small office VoIP services [Telecom]

Earlier this year we had a message thread discussing the Magic Jack device and service. For the service to function, one's computer, with the Magic Jack plugged into a USB port, must be on 24/7 or whatever period one wishes phone service. Intrigued, I perused their web page and noted the device requires a Windows or MacOS system, not Linux, and I lost interest.

Also earlier this year I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle briefly describing another VoIP system, Ooma, but the pricing seemed high and I didn't research it further and simply saved the article's URL:

Earlier this week I received the latest Costco coupon book in the mail and noticed a "special deal" for the Ooma device, so I thought I'd take another look at it. The Costco online-only offer (until Aug. 2) is here:

and Ooma's web site is here:

Interesting. The device is completely stand-alone and only requires a cable, fiber or DSL connection to the Internet though a computer seems to be required to initially activate the device. Once activated, simply plug any standard phone instrument (e.g., 2500 deskset, FAX machine, etc.) into it or one of its satellites. There are no additional costs for the basic service since their business model is the one-time purchase of the hardware box(es).

Documentation (PDF Quickstart and User Guide) is here:

Though I've setup a number of asterisk VoIP systems, this looks like a no hassle plug'n'play system for those wanting a single-line service.

My interest is twofold: as a backup for my cellphone (since I went cellphone-only over 8 years ago and don't have any active landline service), and for the occasional FAX I want/need to send.

Just curious: has anyone here used their devices and service and have any comments about it?

Reply to
Thad Floryan
Loading thread data ...

A handful of comments from an interested but wary non-user:

1) "Free calling to any number in the US", OK, and "low-cost international rates starting at a penny per minute" -- but ending at what highest rate?

2) "All the features you've come to depend on, like caller-ID, call-waiting, and voicemail" -- and location-aware 911? DA?

3) For a DSL user, won't converting to "dry" DSL still keep your monthly TELCO bill (local loop + DSL) vs. (dry DSL) pretty much the same?

4) And should Ooma meet the same fate as Enron or ALR or SunRocket, what happens to that "free calling" and those "features"?

5) Getting a cable ISP is prohibitively expensive where I am; and all these "Save the cost of your current local loop provider" deals come with the catch-22: to get telephony service out of the Ooma or MagicJack or whatever after I "cut" my ties to the phone co., I've got to reinstate my ties to the phone co. for the sake of DSL, typically at no savings over the DSL + local loop rates I pay now.

But your coast may have different pricing, or you may have a non-telco ISP.

I'll be interested to see what other readers think.

Cheers, -- tlvp -- Avant de repondre, jeter la poubelle, SVP

***** Moderator's Note *****

I think most users are blind to the cost of the DSL (or other transport), because they assume they'd have to have it anyway.

Reply to

The Costco site has a great collection of reviews, and most of my concerns have now been answered except:

  1. how does it obtain its IP address?

I'm guessing DHCP.

  1. is there a web (HTML) management interface?

Unknown. It has an embedded Linux OS, so I'd expect to be able to at least ssh/telnet into it. Might have to hack it. :-)

I couldn't find a single complaint about the voice quality; nearly everyone stated it was as good as or better than their previous landline and/or other VoIP service.

Customer service, however, was THE big complaint, with delays answering their 800 number or email topping the list. Most peoples' problems were their own -- not following the step-by-step setup instructions.

For most people, the network setup would be straightforward. I understand why Ooma wants its device to be at the "head" of one's network for QoS, but that's not going to work for me. Best I can determine from available docs from Ooma, I could put it on my firewall's (SonicWall appliance) DMZ and not have to change anything on my LAN.

I finally found their terms of service. Free calling is up to 3000 minutes per month. That works out to be just under 2 hours/day. Fine for me since it's rare that I'd be on the phone more than 2 hours/month. Ooma service is intended for "home" (not business) use.

Actually, yes. Their "Lounge" website page has options to set the location for 911 and, as I learned, the device cannot even be activated until the location is set, which is a good idea -- someone was thinking. The Premier subscription will route a 911 call over a landline if Internet access is unavailable and a landline exists.

Power failures could be a problem for most users who don't have UPSs. Not a problem for me since all my stuff (cable modem, routers, switches, etc.) are on UPSs. If the cable service itself loses power, one is SOL (Simply Out of Luck :-)

Assuming "DA" means Directory Assistance, they have a 411 for that and it costs US$0.99 per call.

They provide incoming CID and, via the "Lounge", permit setting the outgoing CID name to, typically, one's first and last name.

Per their FAQ they appear to be well-funded. Yeah, famous last words. :-)

I've had two employers go belly-up on me the past 2 years and, in today's economy, there are no crystal balls predicting the future. Here in Silicon Valley (where Ooma is also located (Palo Alto)) everything's a mess and most of my friends are out of work and looking, too.

I had Sprint Broadband (microwave) since the late 1990s providing 6Mbps until July 2008 when the spectrum was reallocated for other purposes by the FCC. You can see the antenna setup here: . Though I'm in the heart of Silicon Valley, neither DSL nor cable was available until recently (past several years), thus the Sprint Broadband. My only other option was dialup (56K).

I was quite fortunate finding this: which is not well known and the offer changes every month; in June 2008 I received free installation, a free Motorola SB5101 cable modem, and about $250 in rebates, and a few months ago an auto-upgrade to DOCSIS 3.0 (meaning I could have 50-100 Mbps service but I'm "stuck" at 22Mbps due to the modem being only DOCSIS 2.0). After the 6 months at US$19.95/month, I'm now paying the same for Comcast as I paid Sprint, just under $50/month. Heh, took only about 17 minutes to download the Windows 7 RC DVD ISO (3.5GB) from Microsoft.

My only gripe with Comcast after 1 year of service now is they NEVER send any email or other alerts when they "play" with the network. I'm a night owl and when they go offline at 2am when I'm doing home banking that's a pain. Lucky for me, it's only happened 3 times and I suspect it was solely for the upgrade to DOCSIS 3.0.

Precisely! :-)

Reply to
Thad Floryan

Thanks, Thad. Lots of juicy facts and information here, all very welcome.

As for ISP pricing, $50/mo for Comcast internet access is (a) less than Comcast would want in CT (where I am), and (b) more than I currently pay for local loop and DSL (*and* taxes, fees and surcharges) together.

And Comcast here has just managed to mangle our cable TV settings, and seem unable to get us back to the channel offerings we're subscribed to.

So, while I envy you your DL speeds through them, i'm unlikely to switch.

Still, thanks for all that information: very helpful.

Cheers, -- tlvp

Reply to

Ooma looks like a reasonable product, but it's nothing special compared to its competitors.

The VoIP service I use, Lingo, has a deal where you prepay $195 for a year plus $45 startup and shipping so it's about the same price as Ooma. What you get is the same, a box that plugs into your broadband router with an RJ-11 into which you can plug ordinary phones. The voice quality is fine, their "unlimited" is capped at 5,000 minutes per month, and their international rates are reasonable, including free calls to Canada, Puerto Rico, and USVI. Their customer service can be a little frustrating since you are talking to people in India reading scripts, but they answer the phone 24/7 and they've always managed to solve my problems, even fairly obscure ones with a dead channel on the adapter (they remotely reprogrammed it to use the builtin spare) and routing problems making calls to my rural ILEC.

I haven't looked at other bundled (i.e., box plus inbound plus outbound) VoIP providers lately, but I'd expect to find other similar deals.

R's, John

Reply to
John Levine

There is one difference, though. Ooma is a one-time-only cost for the box assuming one doesn't exceed 3000 minutes/month and/or incur international calling fees or use their 411 service at $0.99/call.

The one-time-only cost for the standalone box is what caught my attention. You mentioned "prepay $195 for a year" which implies an ongoing expense; looking just now at

formatting link
the residential rate is $195/year.

Ooma does have a "Premier" service with a monthly fee (IIRC $12), but the basic service appears to be everything a POTS has with no additional fees ever (with the usage limit, international calling and 411 exceptions).

It seems VoIP has finally entered the mainstream and become ubiquitous; I see it everywhere.

The only real "gotchas" are the dependence on an Internet connection and the need for a UPS serving the VoIP box and the Internet CPE to achieve equivalent reliability as we've enjoyed with POTS.

In the almost 60 years I've been using POTS across the USA (both coasts and TX/NM), there was only one time I ever had a problem, and that was about

15-20 years ago when a new switch was cut over at midnight on a Friday and modems were affected due to a clock/timing problem which was fixed several days later after 1000s of complaints to PacBell.
Reply to
Thad Floryan

For a busy family, especially if a person is home during the day,

3,000 minutes a month is not quite enough. If something special is going on, eg planning a vacation, illness, school issues, etc., the phone will be in heavy use easily three hours per day. ***** Moderator's Note *****

3,000 minutes per month = 50 hours per month, and One and Two-Thirds hours per day. Surely that's enough for any family that doesn't have a teenager at home.

Reply to

My thinking, too, but each person/family needs to evaluate their own requirements and situation.

My own calls are seldom more than 5 minutes, typically 2 minutes or less, and only 20 seconds to order a pizza (tell them my phone number, simply say "repeat the last order", done (would be faster if they had CID :-))

Additionally, in my case, I'm looking for a service to complement my cellphone in case it should break. I've been cellphone-only for over 8 years now, but "stuff happens".

What I'm starting to appreciate with the Ooma offering is no additional costs whatsoever (in my situation) after the one-time-only equipment purchase. There might be other free services "out there", but Ooma is local to me and I know where they are if I have to bang on their door, :-)

I was paying over $125/month to PacBell for four lines that I seldom used: main voice line with a Bogen Friday voice mail system, FAX line, and 2 modem lines. I don't believe I used the modem lines even once after 2000 except to test some services for clients; they were in constant use before then for two purposes: connecting to a dialup ISP (before I got Sprint Broadband), and for receiving incoming calls to BATS (Bay Area Time Service) which I ran for a l-o-n-g time free to all callers to time-sync their computers with my NIST time receiver. Once NTP became ubiquitous, BATS became superfluous and I ceased operating it.

Given the apparent widespread acceptance of VoIP, I wonder what's going to happen with all the TelCos? I haven't seen any innovative new services from any local ones in decades. The big thing for me way back when was Touch Tone in the mid-1960s in New Mexico. I gave myself Touch Tone service when I moved to California by "accidentally" reversing the green and red wires. :-) :-) :-)

Reply to
Thad Floryan

I want to clarify that comment and apologize to the TelCos.

DSL simply blows my mind.

In the 1960s I was at 110baud with an acoustic modem. My next steps were 300 baud then 1200 then 2400 (both standards: Racal-Vadic and ???). Then I had at 9600 baud, followed by Telebit (two T2500) modems around ~19,200baud. My last modems were Hayes at ~56K.

In 2000 a friend called and asked if I could setup their new company on the Internet and setup phone service, etc. Long story short, I literally built-up the company infrastructure from nothing: Internet, phones, and even the cubicles and wall paint colors. The phone system was PacBell's Centrex (worked great!), later a Nortel BCM (really a great system), then a crap VoIP system mandated by the 10th (in 6 years) CEO (who had vested interest in that VoIP system {hint to others}); they're now belly up.

Point being: the San Mateo, CA Central Office was literally across the street and the DSL service I had contracted ended up being 6 Mbps inbound and about some 500 Kbps outbound. For about US$50/month. My jaw nearly hit the floor on receipt of the first bill -- simply mind boggling.

Though I sneer at DSL today (given my cable service), I have to admit DSL is an incredible technological achievement. Back in the 1980s I was happy with AT&T/HP StarLAN at 1 Mbps (~ 1BaseT) over existing in-plant (and home (e.g., me :-)) wiring and thought that was the limit.

Just curious: anyone here with a crystal ball who can "predict" the next advance we can expect from the TelCos? Or will TelCos become a vanishing act with the onslaught of digital technology?

Reply to
Thad Floryan

Worse than that the LECs charge an arm and a leg for calling features, especially unbundled CID, when those features are included with wireless and Vonage.

And, features that are network sensitive, such as Call Return, Selective Call Forwarding, or Call Rejection, work only intra-LATA, which makes them basically useless.

***** Moderator's Note *****

Why are the features you mention limited to Intra-LATA?

Reply to
Sam Spade

Good question. It's not easy to find a rep who even knows that. Then, when you do the rep has no idea why they are limited to intra-LATA.

Here's what it says on the AT&T web site for call return:

"Call Return may not be available in all areas or on all calls."

Very terse and sufficiently uninformative that it can be considered deceptive.

***** Moderator's Note *****

Well, the question should really be "Is this caused by a technical restriction, or a political one?". Call Return depends on SS7 delivering Calling Party data, which can't be guaranteed for all calls, so that may be a technical problem. OTOH, ILECs & CLECs might be demanding extra payment for enabling the service on IXC (Inter-LATA) calls, and the IXCs might not want to pay the freight.

Reply to
Sam Spade

Limited to intra-LATA? Are you sure? That hasn't been my experience; that is, I have used those features nationally.

Reply to

I am sure it's something like that. Nonetheless the customer is the one that is sold a bill of goods.

Reply to
Sam Spade

I'm not sure how wiedspread VOIP acutally is.

For a low-use business or residential customer who does not have computer broadband, VOIP would cost them _more_ (as I understand it). VOIP requires sevearl things a great many people do not have, such as a full service UPS and adapter eqiupment. Accordingly, I'm not sure 'widespread' acceptance is accurate.

Further, many cable offerings seem to be significantly going up in price. Some deals are a cheap introfuctory rate that goes up after six months or a year, which might not make it so attractive.

Lastly, the traditional wireline companies may offer their own VOIP services. Isn't that what FIOS basically is? The FIOS offered around here is very attractively priced compared to alternatives for the save package of services.

Reply to

IBM was once primarily a hardware company. Now it is primarily a services company (though it still sells plenty of hardware and software).

I have no idea of what's in the traditional telco future box. But like IBM, I suspect they've been moving away from the old time landline into other areas, such as wireless, data transmission, and other services.

One thing about VOIP I forget to mention: What happens if everybody decides to drop the traditonal landline and go VOIP. So there's a bunch of COs with dead No 5 ESS boxes. But will there be enough VOIP 'capacity' in whatever it takes to collect calls from individual homes and businesses, switch them, and route them to destinations? Will the lines and switches become overcrowded with an unmanaged network?

Regularly while being on line sometimes there's a momentary pause in response. While playing on Usenet it's no big deal. While talking on the phone such a pause would be intolerable.

If someone is b/s-sing with a friend and the calls are dropped, no one really cares too much. But if business people are discussing important stuff, or someone is talking to their doctor, those .9999s of landline reliability BETTER be there with VOIP.

I think regulated carriers are protected by tarrifs from litigation. But VOIP providers have [no] such protection, and in our litigous society, a failure of an important call _would_ result in nasty lawsuits (cell phone providers got hit hard in their early days for their lofty promises).

Reply to

I can only speak to AT&T in California. They most certainly are limited to intra-LATA.

Reply to
Sam Spade

This got me curious. I tried Call Return on my Vonage line, which is in Washington, DC. It identified and offered to return a call from my California AT&T line.

So, it seems to *perhaps* only be a former Pacifc Bell limitation. Too bad we don't have any current AT&T network engineers on this forum.

Reply to
Sam Spade

You guys got me going, especially when I found out that call return works nationwide on my Vonage service.

The only feature on my AT&T line (formerly Pacific Bell/SBC) that is of this type is Select Call Forwarding. I tried to set up an inter-LATA number and it wouldn't take. So, I called 611 and got a sharp features guy. He told me my feature was not set up correctly (it's been there since SBC days). He said it would be "repaired" within two hours.

Now, it takes nation-wide numbers. Must have been a Pacific Bell thing.

Reply to
Sam Spade

I see it (by recognizing the phone instruments) at many old and most new businesses.

Though I don't actually know anyone with VoIP service in their home, anecdotes here and on the Costco site strongly sugggest a lot of folks have it.

Because they'd have to order/install/use broadband; that's the entry point for VoIP. Specs I see suggest 500Kbps (or more) inbound and at least

300Kbps outbound.

Once one has broadband internet to the home, that's it. Simply plug the VoIP device onto the Ethernet and dial away. A UPS is required only for runtime during power outages and wouldn't help if the broadband provider's service is down during a power failure.

A business VoIP would likely have both a UPS and "adapter equipment" (e.g., a PRI feeding something like an asterisk system running on a dedicated computer).

I don't have "the numbers" so I'd agree. However, it seems that nearly everyplace I look (at businesses) I see VoIP; I didn't see as many just a few years ago, so clearly its acceptance has expanded.

Do cable prices EVER go down? :-)

VoIP ostensibly works over basic ADSL to the home. Perhaps competition will lower prices.

I don't know. AFAIK, FIOS is unavailble in California, or it might be available in certain service areas. Weekly fliers I receive from PacBell are still "pushing" 768Kbps DSL for what seems the same price I'm paying for 30x faster cable.

Reply to
Thad Floryan

The same question could be asked of conventional TelCos.

an "event" (e.g., earthquake, fire, etc.) here, they say stay off the phone because the system's capacity is a small percentage of all installed phone instruments. The number 5% comes to mind and I don't recall where I first heard that decades ago along with AT&T's alleged army of statisticians who conjured up that number after examining calling patterns.

A broadband Internet connection is basically always on.

With POTS, one does not always receive dial tone (especially during "events").

My cellphone service has been generally reliable over the 17 years I've had it so far (same account: Cellular One -> Cingular -> AT&T).

The question is: do such pauses occur in the real world? I've setup a number of business VoIP systems and voice quality is comparable to POTS.

Does such a level ".9999" exist? In my experience, it doesn't. One client who was located in Cupertino CA would lose power and phones at what seemed a weekly basis due to a (drunken?) backhoe operator severing undergrounded wires. The company finally abandoned Cupertino and moved to San Jose CA. True, that problem was not caused by PacBell -- they're subject to the whims of Mother Nature and other people like any entity.

Interesting point, but looking right now at the front pages of my local AT&T phone book, there are absolutely NO guarantees of service level or even dial tone. They give a number to call for repair, but if the phone and/or line isn't functioning, ... d'Oh! :-)

Reply to
Thad Floryan

Cabling-Design.com Forums website is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.