Ooma Telo VoIP Review: Home Phone Service Without The Monthly Bill

I'm a relic -- I still have a land line that is used daily. While the rest of my friends and coworkers are trading in their home phones for iPhones and Androids, I'm forking over cash monthly to the local monopoly ... I mean, the phone company. Correction: I used to. Now, my phone service costs next to nothing thanks to Ooma and its Telo home phone system.

Why Ooma?

A better question might be: Why even bother with a land line? I know the cell phone companies are offering the world in exchange for contracts, oftentimes throwing in free top-tier phones and providing enticing minute-based plans to steal business from the traditional phone services. Besides, a cell phone can do anything a home phone can, right?

For my needs, a land line still makes sense for a few reasons. First of all, I have a nice set of cordless phones that my family is comfortable with using and, besides, I'd rather not have to throw them out. Being able to pick up from anywhere in the house is a nice indulgence, and I'm never worried about the battery life of my handsets either (much unlike my cell phone). Most importantly, traditional home-based phone service is still cheaper than any comparable cell plan that I am aware of -- even more so now that I have Ooma.

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Okay, so what is Ooma?

Stripped down to one basic statement, Ooma is a complete home-based phone service replacement. Kick out the archaic phone company, hook up the Ooma Telo box to your existing phones, and carry on in life with one important difference: No more monthly phone charges (more on this later). You don't even have to give up features like caller ID and voice mail.

The Ooma Telo box is actually a VoIP router that is placed in between your internet provider's modem and your computer or router. Yes, this means you are required to have internet service in order to power the Telo. Unlike other VoIP solutions (such as magicJack), Ooma will operate even if you don't have a computer. As long as your ISP is delivering bandwidth to the Telo, your home phones are in business.

Speaking of which, the Ooma Telo can be connected to your existing phones in two different ways. The simple solution is to connect one of your handsets directly into the Telo. I have one of those cordless setups where all of the handsets are powered off of one hub, which I have plugged into the Telo. If you don't have this option, you can connect your Ooma into a phone jack and, if the planets align, turn the rest of your jacks into Ooma-powered ones. For the record, I do not have any experience with this second option and highly suggest that you browse the Ooma support forums for more information.

Okay, so no monthly bills ... is that it?

If the prospect of having free home phone service isn't intriguing enough, Ooma Telo offers a few perks that your local phone company probably does not. For instance, every Telo owner can manage his or her preferences and peruse their call logs through Ooma's website. You'll definitely want to check the website out anyway, as new customers are given a 60-day trial of Ooma's Premier service. Nifty features like multiple screening options, enhanced voicemail, blacklists, and more are included in Premier, all of which can be adjusted online.

I do need to clarify the "free" portion of Ooma, however. Obviously, the Telo box itself will cost you a chunk of change (I purchased mine for $199 a year ago). The Premier service, if you choose to keep it, currently costs $9.99 per month. Oh, and you will continue to receive a monthly bill in the form of a federal tax and recovery fee statement. Mine costs slightly less than $4 per month, yours might be more. Compared to the $45 per month that I was throwing away to my local phone provider, however, Ooma is a bargain in the long run (it took less than five months to pay for itself).

Anything else to be aware of?

I purchased and installed my Ooma Telo in June of 2010. I won't lie, I've had a few issues that were fairly annoying to resolve.

When you initially register your Telo, you have to make the decision on whether you wish to port your existing phone number (for $40) or use an Ooma-provided one. I'm cheap, so I chose to use the new phone number. Unfortunately, several family members had difficulty in connecting to it (constant busy signals). So, I spent several days with Ooma's tech support to ultimately have another new number assigned.

Voice quality generally ranges from good to downright perfect, but at times the connection is so bad that I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm using a land line. The line sometimes produces a buzzing sound in the background that I've yet to find a solution for. The strangest thing is that higher pitch voices (mostly female) will randomly cause the line to beep like a touch tone. No solution for that, either.

Overall, I'd still highly recommend the Ooma Telo if you can justify using land line phones. The unit pays for itself within months, and the features (particularly when including Premier) are much better than what a local phone company will provide. If you've already thrown out your home phone handsets and are happy with your cell phone provider, I'm not sure Ooma offers enough to make a land line worth a second look.

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