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Ooma

She's pretty foxy

| Many years ago I decided to cut the umbilical cord to the phone company and go completely cellular. It was a noble aim, but one frought with gotchas.

First and foremost, cell phone service in this country is abominable. It has made "Can you year me now?" much more than an advertising slogan — it is a fact of life for nearly every cell phone user. And that's on a good day out in the open.

Cell phone bars

The real agony begins when you are inside your house. Those 5 bars you saw on your phone outside suddenly reduce to maybe half a bar. Problems immediately rear their ugly heads:

If you leave your phone in, say the kitchen, but are watching TV in the living room, you may not hear the phone ring. Are you willing to carry the cell phone around with you at all times during your waking hours? Even if you are, I'm not.

But assume you hear the phone and answer the call. In most houses you will find that in order to hear the call you have to stand absolutely still near a window with your fingers positioned just-so on the phone — otherwise half the conversation will be lost, or the call will drop entirely.

The solution that I hit upon was to acquire an internet phone number (VoIP) through my cable company and, when I was in the house, forward my cell phone to the ersatz "land line" and use the cordless phones attached to the VoIP line. And for years I've stuck with that solution. There's always the chance that you forget to forward or unforward the cell phone, but that's the price you pay.

Meanwhile, I've always been amazed at the Bluetooth hands-free phone system in my car. Start the car and immediately Sophie connects to the cell phone, and any calls made or received go through the car system with its separate antenna etc. Why couldn't you have something like that at home? (Several years ago I bought something that promised to do that, but it didn't work for s____.)

Enter, Ooma

Ooma logo

Ooma takes the form of a slick black box that you simply plug into your router and then plug your phone into Ooma. You purchase the Ooma device and thereafter the service is advertised as "free" for home users. Naturally, it's not free, free; there are some minor charges, such as taxes and fees, that do apply. But way less than you will pay the phone company or Vonnage or your cable company. So far the functionality is the same as my VoIPO internet phone service. But wait! There's more!

Here's the sweet part: there's a Bluetooth adapter that plugs into a USB port on the back of Ooma. Once you've paired Ooma and your cell phone(s), when a call comes into the cell phone, Ooma routes it to the phone(s) you have plugged into Ooma. You're still talking on your cell phone, and yes, you're still using up your cell phone minutes, but you're not touching the cell phone. It's sitting on a window ledge where you get the best reception and, optionally, being charged. And since I have these cordless phone handsets all over the house, I don't have to be sitting next to the cell phone to hear it.

Ooma's ports
L-R: Bluetooth adapter, power cord, empty port, green cord to router, cord to phone

Another sweet thing: if someone calls your Ooma, it will ring all the phones it knows about: the ones attached directly to it and any cell phones you have configured. (In point of fact, I won't be using this capability since the only  phone number I give people is my cell phone number. But it's a cool feature.)

How are they ever going to make any money, selling a $150 device (including Bluetooth adapter) and providing lifetime free phone service? Ah, they've thought of that! They offer a suite of add-on services they call Ooma Premiere for about $10/month. When you buy the basic Ooma, they automatically give you the Premiere services for 60 days, hoping that you'll become sure you have to have them and will buy.

Last updated on Apr 29, 2016

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