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ooma: First Thoughts

Posted by: Olga Kharif on August 06, 2007

It seems to be a trend nowadays: Web-calling services providers give out their equipment to users for free as part of their marketing push. About a week ago, I started testing an adapter from a new service called ooma. When ooma debuts in the fall, it will charge $399 for equipment that some 2,000 Beta testers like myself received for free.

What’s clear to me already is that, alas, there’s no free lunch. Several people I’ve talked to in the past week have said that my phone sound quality has worsened. But the most annoying part of using ooma is the ooma dialtone, heard by both callers and call recepients, and intended to help ooma’s gospel spread via word of mouth. The idea is, the call recepients hear this different-sounding dialtone and inquire of you, the current ooma user, what this is. You tell them about ooma, offering free long-distance calls for life, and the company gets another ooma customer.

The idea is good, except it doesn’t work. For some reason, the dialtone sounds not when the party you are calling to just picks up, but a few seconds into the conversation. It actually interrupts the conversation. That’s not my idea of an unobtrusive sales pitch.

Worse, so far, no one but my editor, who knows I am doing this trial, has asked me about what that weird, zen-like sound on the line is. When the ooma dialtone sounds, most people pause in mid-sentence — probably tactfully not wanting to ask me what in the world I am doing over there — and then chat on. Not a single soul has asked me about the dialtone. And after being annoyed with the ooma dialtone for a week, I am not about to volunteer the information myself.

That said, ooma is supposed to drastically cut my long-distance bill. So perhaps the slight annoyance is worth it, since my equipment is free. I am not sure that users who will actually have to pay for it in the fall will be as forgiving, though.

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Reader Comments

Tech Untangled

August 6, 2007 01:06 PM

Here's an interesting comparison of Skype and OOma.

Mike P

August 21, 2007 09:53 PM

Reason that the obtrusive tone doesn't sound just after the called party answers is that there is no line signal that indicates answer, since you're using a common subscriber loop-start line. The Hub has no way to know when they answer, so it probably just inserts the tone at some fixed time after it sends the call. Bet it still occurs if the party never answers.

Same problem we dealt with 35 years ago in early MCI service. This is well known to telephone engineers, (of which OOMA seems to be void of).

See other technical problems at

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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