I consider my home phone one of life's necessities. Some of us can live with only a cell phone (and this is a great way to start cutting your bills). However cell phone call quality is noticeably worse than regular phones in my area (plus you always have to worry about managing your minutes). In addition, I like to have a backup to my cell phone in case of a 911 emergency.
A few years ago I broke away from the old phone company and started trying out voice-over-IP solutions. I've used Vonage with good results (except when I tried to cancel my service...). Vonage had good call quality and so-so pricing (about $30 per month after all of the fees are added in). So when my local cable company offered me a "triple-play" package (phone, internet, TV) with attractive pricing I took it.
As you'd expect, the triple-play pricing was simply a teaser rate which expired after a year. I've played the usual games of threatening to cancel, but despite my best efforts the bills seemed to keep going up. So, I started looking for alternative solutions.
- Must provide reliable, acceptable quality phone service
- Must work with the 911 service
- Must be a stand-alone device (no computer required)
- Must have unlimited local and long distance calling in the US
I finally read about and thought I'd try the Ooma Telo:
You pay a one-time up-front cost for a phone box and have no monthly bill (except for taxes/fees). There is always a catch! Taxes and fees include 911 fees, state taxes, etc. There is an online web calculator here. Apparently, your actual fees could be lower (depending upon when your product was made). See this discussion here. For me, the calculator says I should pay $3.47 per month, but according to my account, I will only be charged $11.75 per year (starting with the second year). Either way this amounts to (almost) free phone service.
If you want to keep you old phone number, there is a one-time charge of $40. OOMA does offer a premium package that includes a second line and one free phone transfer. The premium service is not free, and I didn't opt for it since I only wanted/needed the basic features (which are more than adequate for me).
UPDATE: Tip from anonymous below: If you are lucky enough to find an older "Hub/Scout" combo (called the "Core") from a local retailer (or Amazon) and it doesn't have any printing about "fees" on the box. It may truly be free of yearly fees. Not sure how long this may last though...
Just take the cost of the box (which you own) + $40 to transfer your number and divide it by your old phone bill (minus taxes/fees). In a manner of months this system will pay for itself.
I ordered the box from Amazon (cheaper than buying directly from OOMA) and it was on my doorstep two days later.
So, how well does it work?
In short, no different than my old phone. I did notice some audio glitches that I can't say for sure were OOMA's fault (I'm used to far worse on my cell phone!) However, the problems were minor and haven't happened again. I can only assume that the OOMA engineers are working hard at making it a good service.
Hooking up the box was simple. You only need three cables (included): power, phone line, and internet. Just put it near your router/modem and within cable distance from any phone jack in your house (unless you opt for a cordless handset below).
Obviously you need reliable broadband internet service (in my case, cable modem). Registering the box was easy and it started working immediately. Transferring my old phone number took less than 3 weeks (they estimated a month). You get a temporary phone number assigned right way so it is fully usable while you wait for your number to transfer. OOMA even called me a few times to make sure the transfer worked as expected (decent customer service!) Afterwards, I called my cable company and canceled my old phone service. I really enjoyed that call! No more phone bill, yeah!
Using the OOMA telo
There is a web interface that you can use to control the service and even listen to your voicemail. Even better, the box itself acts just like your old answering machine (although you don't have to use it that way). The top mounted buttons have a nice blue backlight and respond to your touch.
You can use the OOMA Telo with your existing phones (corded or cordless) with no problems (since it can plug into your house phone wiring). OOMA does offer a cordless phone Ooma Telo DECT 6.0 Cordless Handset that connects wirelessly to the OOMA Telo, but I haven't used it since I already have a multi-unit cordless phone. I am tempted to try one of these phones as it eliminates one more box in my house.
Update: You still need to pay for taxes / fees (see corrected discussion above)
OOMA might not be in business forever (although they seemed to be a very well funded company). Even so, after a few months, this little box has paid for itself and each additional month is "money in the bank!"
Highly recommended and I sure don't miss those phone bills. Go OOMA, you rock!