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ooma, or how to stop paying for your landline phone

Like arcades and paper books, landline phones are becoming an outdated artifact of the 20th century; many families have opted to cut their landline service entirely, in favor of their cell phones. For those of us that, for whatever reason, refuse to give it up, there’s another option besides suffering the $30-and-up bill that our telecom provider socks us with: Ooma.

What exactly is Ooma? Ooma is a VOIP service, one that provides you the equivalent of landline service, but through your internet connection. It does this through a sleek black box that is placed between your modem and your router; plug your home phone into this box, and voila! Dial tone.

How much does it cost? The box: $200. The ongoing service: whatever your local/government taxes are, say around $3/month. You can also get Ooma Premier, which gets you some nifty features for $10/month.

Can I keep my current home phone number? Yes, for an additional $40 you can port your number to the Ooma service.

How well does it work? Well, obviously it’s not going to work well with anything slower than a broadband internet connection. If you put it between your modem and your router (or between your modem and your PC, if you don’t have a router), it works great — it uses “QoS” (“quality of service”) to make sure that your phone gets the bandwidth it needs. However, if for whatever reason you can’t put your Ooma upstream of your router, you are probably going to experience a loss of quality if you try to make a phone call while e.g. watching Netflix Streaming; you may hear the other person just fine, but they’ll probably hear your voice cutting in and out occasionally.

What gotchas or fine print should I know about? There are a few, some of which I’ve already touched on:

  • The big one I’ve seen complaints about is that there is an ongoing charge, if a small one: you still have to pay your government taxes, and a lot of people who sign up for Ooma aren’t aware of that (though it’s clearly spelled out in several places).

  • As I mentioned above, you may be sacrificing quality depending on your network speed and architecture. Ooma has a 30-day return policy, though, giving you plenty of time to evaluate it.

  • True landlines are traditionally more reliable than internet connections, though the gap between them is very small these days.

  • You will no longer be able to use your home phone jacks; you must plug your phone directly into your Ooma. (Please don’t try plugging your Ooma into your home jack; the fifty volts could fry it.) If you need phones throughout your house, you can easily purchase a multiple-handset cordless phone system like this one, if you haven’t already.

The Financial Geekery household currently uses an Ooma, so if you have any other questions, feel free to fire away in the comments!

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