Publisher's Outlook

Ooma Makes Home Phones Better

By Rich Tehrani, CEO

Covering the telecom space as long as I have, I figured there are few innovations I haven't seen. That was until I took a train into Manhattan to see the execs at Ooma to learn how they are evolving their Telo home phone system.

More than a year ago, I proclaimed this is a phone system that Bang & Olufsen could have designed, and I am still impressed with the way it looks. But more important than the aesthetics is the inside of the system, which boasts the open source Linux Freeswitch telephony operating system running on a 450MHz dual-core ARM (News - Alert) processor with 1GB of Flash and RAM.

The company is looking to advance the entire home user telephony (and eventually computing) experience and having more horsepower in the home helps in this regard. Ooma offers a wire-speed router so customers can put the device at the root of their network without slowing down their Internet access. This allows them to guarantee that voice traffic receives adequate priority to avoid any voice quality problems when the home network is busy. In addition, this horsepower allows new features to be added without impacting the core functionality of providing high-quality voice telephone service.

Perhaps the simplest feature is a USB port and, nowadays, having one is not such a big deal. But since there is one in the device the company decided to use it to offer a Bluetooth dongle the size of a quarter that allows you to connect up to seven devices to your Telo. Some of these can be headsets, but what is really innovative is the ability to pair cell phones so you can use your home phone system as an extension of your mobile phone.

The company’s promise is to make the home phone experience relevant. I say it is not only relevant, but better.

I have heard from many people that the mobile phone will crush the home phone business, and to some degree it is. But the reality is that somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of households have poor or no cell phone service. Now if your Telo is located in an area where your cell service is strong, you can just power it up near the Telo and have your mobile calls follow you throughout the house to a total of four Ooma handsets. Your calls will be answered by your mobile service's voicemail if there is no answer on the Telo. According to Tami Bhaumik (News - Alert), vice president of corporate marketing at Ooma, and Dennis Peng, the company's vice president of product management, this new Blue-tooth feature is a step in an evolving platform. The company's promise is to make the home phone experience relevant. I say it is not only relevant, but better.

I have had a few people tell me that they don't need a landline, but when I ask them how long their iPhone (News - Alert) or other battery lasts they tell me five or six hours. My mobile's power cord is too short to allow me to use it when it's plugged so, for me, the Ooma solution with Blue- tooth offers the enhanced flexibility of charging my mobile while not missing calls or having to grapple with a phone plugged into an outlet that will not reach my ear while standing.

Getting back to the comment about relevance, Ooma has given the Telo the ability to sync up to 1,000 names from your address book whether in Microsoft Outlook, Facebook (News - Alert) or Google. In addition, you can use an iPhone app that is soon to be released to take advantage of the low international calling rates Ooma offers. Interestingly, this solution will support VoIP using as little as 30kbps of bandwidth, whether you are using Wi-Fi or not. This means you don't use up your mobile voice minutes when enjoying Ooma's mobile applications.

Using the $9.99 iPhone app, Ooma Premier customers get 250 U.S. calling minutes and then pay 1.9¢ per minute. Non-Premier customers pay 1.9¢ per minute from the get-go. The company hopes to roll out software for other platforms soon as well. Expect Android (News - Alert) and RIM devices on the short-list.

The company also allows SIP software to interface with the device so if you are a CounterPath or Google Voice user you can leverage the best of VoIP clients with your home phone service. There is deep integration with Google (News - Alert) Voice, allowing call screening and easy access to Google Voice voicemail.

Where Ooma really has differentiated itself is in its evolving platform, which has a tremendous focus on voice quality, providing HD voice and, moreover, is adding features all the time. More than 100,000 customers have chosen this service so far, and I think you should look at it seriously when making a choice about your home or small business phone. UC