More than a decade ago when I upgraded to broadband I took advantage of the company's phone option for my home phone. It was about half the price of my Verizon landline, and the service turned out to be just as good, with a comforting dial tone, and unlike my old service, unlimited long distance calling.
Over the years, however, the cost of this phone kept increasing, until recently it rose above $50 per month. I do have a cell phone, and for many if not most this would have been enough and they would have canceled their POTS (plain old telephone system) landline and gone 100% wireless. But I wanted to keep a landline. I conduct a lot of phone interviews, and the cell reception in my home office isn't great. And there is still a number of others with reasons to keep a landline. Perhaps you have a home business with multiple lines. Or maybe you still need a dedicated fax line. Others have poor or even non-existent cell service at home, and they absolutely need to keep their 911 service for health or safety reasons.
There are a number of replacement land line companies out there, and after researching the alternatives I narrowed the possibilities down to two. MagicJack
The pricing was similar, but MagicJack does not offer local 911 service, and for the same price I decided to go with Ooma.
What you get
The good news is that a basic Ooma account will give you a phone number and unlimited US calling for free. The bad news--you still have to pay $5 or $6 per month in federal, state and local taxes, along with 911 fees, depending on your state. Check your fees by zip code here.
The Ooma basic plan includes unlimited US calling, and fairly low per minute fees for Canada, Mexico and other countries. Ooma Premier, $9.99 plus tax per month—still much less than AT&T or Verizon landline service--includes Canada and Mexico calling, and several extra features. You can compare the plans here:
The other bad news is that you have to purchase an Ooma Telo, a hardware device that plugs into your broadband router at one end and a standard phone jack at the other. The Telo is $99.99 at Ooma.com, but it often goes on sale for less.
The company also offers an Ooma Wireless that connects to your broadband via Wi-Fi and Ooma LTE, which will use a cellular network when your internet is down—extra fees apply.
Ooma combo packages include either one or more Ooma branded wireless handsets. They offer menu driven access to several commands not usually found on a standard phone. Unfortunately these extra commands are screen-based. There is no audio voicing, and the text is average size, with no ability to enlarge point size or use alternate color schemes.
The Ooma Telo
The Ooma Telo is approximately 8 by 6 by 2 inches tall, With the rear edge facing you, from left to right are the following connections:
USB: For future updates and upgrades.
Power: The power adapter is included.
Home: which allows you to share your internet connection.
Internet: Includes the cable to connect Ooma to your router.
Phone: a standard telephone jack to plug in your standard phone.
Ooma's flat top side includes five buttons in two rows: from left to right Lower and higher, and the bottom row, the trash can, fast backwards, play and fast forward. You can use these buttons to play and delete voicemails. Unfortunately, the only signal that you have a VM is a flashing light. There is no bouncy ringtone such as many providers offer to alert you to a waiting voicemail. You can access and review VMs on the phone, on the Ooma Home Phone app discussed below, or have your VMs emailed to you, which can be extremely handy when away from home or to archive messages without cluttering your voicemail box. Standard users can keep up to 100 VMs, Premier customers 250. Here are VM setup instructions.
You can also access your VMs on the Ooma app, discussed below.
Setting up Ooma
To set up your Ooma you will need to obtain the seven-digit activation code from the sticker affixed to the bottom of the device. I could not use my iPhone's OCR apps to determine the location and text of this sticker, however a quick Be My Eyes session did the trick.
To activate your Telo phone you have to register at Ooma.com/activate . For the most part the registration was accessible, however there were options where the labeling displayed together above the entry fields, but so long as I entered the data in the same order it worked OK.
Unfortunately, at the very end of the signup process there was a license acceptance checkbox that simply would not check. I needed sighted help to complete the registration. I reported these issues to the company. I was told the developers would be making the appropriate fixes, but after several months I have yet to hear back.
During the setup process you will be given the opportunity to choose your new phone number from a list of available numbers in either your current area code or the area code of your choice. Note: Your 911 response address will be entered separately, so even if you live in Georgia and use a New York area code 911 will receive the proper address.
You can also keep your current phone number. It's called number porting. There is a $40 charge, but I was able to port for free with one year of prepaid Ooma Premier. Various deals and discounts are usually available.
After completing the online registration you will be instructed to connect the Telo's network and phone cable, then attach the power cord and plug in the device. The instructions then offer the flashing light sequence that will let you know when the Telo has completed registration. You are also told setup can take up to 45 minutes. Since I could not see these lights I simply waited a few minutes and then picked up my phone receiver…and heard silence. I waited a few more minutes, then heard a fast busy signal, but approximately 45 minutes later-- the Ooma dial tone, introduced with a few distinctive notes to inform you the phone is now connected to Ooma.
The Ooma "Home Phone" app
I tested Ooma using the iOS Home Phone app, and it was VoiceOver accessible. Your new phone number is your password, and in the app you can set most features, including having your cell phone ring along with your Ooma landline, or any other number you desire. You can also use your iPhone to make and receive Ooma calls using cellular minutes when you're traveling or your internet connection is slow or down . , and You can set known and/or suspected spam calls to either go to voicemail, announce a "call blocked" or "number disconnected" message, or ring continuously and never pick up., And whether you answer the call on your landline or mobile phone, the call number and ID time and duration info will show up in your iPhone's call log.
One feature not usually available on standard systems is the ability to set a secondary emergency number or email address. With this feature enabled, if you dial 911 a second text or email is sent out to the designated person. This is a great option for seniors and families worried about their parents or neighbors.
Ooma is also Alexa and Google Nest compatible. Install the skill and you can use your device to call a number or contact, or listen to your voicemails.
Unfortunately, there are several features vision impaired users may not be able to access. With an Ooma account you can have several phone numbers, however accessing them for outgoing calls can only be done via an Ooma phone. You can also make a separate call, even if someone is already using the phone—again, only with the Ooma phone. And for unknown reasons the * codes used by Ooma do not include call forwarding and un-forwarding. You must do this either with an Ooma phone or smartphone app.
With the notable exception of call forwarding, nearly all of the essential telephone features are as easy to use and access with my Ooma phone as they ever were with my old landline. Even considering the hardware limitations I will be keeping my Ooma phone, and the savings will pay for the Telo in a few short months. I enjoy having a call log on my phone, and being able to return calls on my iPhone that show up with my Ooma caller ID.
Learn more about Ooma at Ooma.com or call 1-866-939-6662