Ooma is VoIP Service For Your Smart HomeBy - 01/23/2017
Screw specialization. Why stick with one niche when you can do it all? At least, that’s what I’m convinced is the driving philosophy behind Ooma.
I ran across Ooma’s booth at CES 2017. I was semi-familiar with their phone product, though not as familiar as David McCabe, Ooma owner and technology expert. Walking the booths together, David gave me a mini tour of the product he uses as a home phone system before we delved into the details with Ooma’s team.
What Can’t Ooma Do?
Admittedly, it took some time for me to understand what Ooma does, partially because they do a lot, partially because the way they explain it is confusing to me. Even after talking to David and the Ooma team at CES I still had to jump on Ooma’s chat support to clarify a few points. In short, Ooma’s a phone, security system, protector of connected devices, and a smart home player. The base of the system is a device called Ooma Telo, and no matter what you want to do, you’ll need to purchase one for $99 to get started.
Ooma is first a VoIP (Voice over IP) system. It allows you to make phone calls over the internet and is a cheaper alternative to a traditional phone line. Companies like AT&T charge around $34/month for basic phone service. By comparison, Ooma charges $99 for their Ooma Telo hardware and phone service is free, though you must pay taxes and fees. You can obtain an estimated monthly cost by inputting your zip code here. For example, it appears I would pay around $5.00 per month for Basic Service. If I want more, I’ll need to jump up to Premier. The difference between the two services is enough to put us all in the weeds, so let me break it down for you by focusing on the primary features and those that impact the services we will discuss below. Keep in mind that your purchase of the Ooma Telo will include a trial subscription to Premier.
|Basic Service||Ooma Premier|
|$0.00/month + taxes||$9.99/month|
|Ooma Care Phone Support|
|911 Service / Receive a Text or Email When 911 if Called|
|Amazon Echo Integration|
|Works With Nest|
|Smart Home Protection||$3.99/month or $44.99/year||$5.99/month or $59.99/year|
|Smart Home Monitoring||$5.99/month|
|Mobile App Calling (iOS or Android )||Make Calls||Make Calls and Receive Incoming Calls|
|Mobile App Call Forwarding, Backup Number, Multi-Ring|
|Other Features:||Detailed Comparison|
Smart Home Monitoring
One of the features Ooma launched at CES is Smart Home Monitoring with Remote 911. Using the service, you will receive an alert (push, text, call, or email) if one of your Ooma sensors detects activity while armed. Ooma is launching an array of sensors including a window/door sensor ($25), water sensor ($30), and a motion sensor ($35). At CES 2018, they launched a smart smoke detector, garage door sensor, and a siren.
The Smart Home Monitoring service will give you the option of calling 911 from your home phone even when you’re away. What makes this feature unique is that it calls the dispatch center near your home no matter where you are, even if you’re on vacation thousands of miles away. The only other company currently offering this local 911 capability is Canary, and it’s certainly a unique home security benefit.
In addition to monitoring and local 911, Smart Home Monitoring will provide access to the Ooma Home Monitoring Mobile App (iOS or Android). Through the app, you can check the status of your sensors, set up notifications, arm or disarm your system using modes, or set up automated arm and disarm using geofencing. At CES, we saw a brief demo of the app and sensors. Every time the door opened, the smartphone received an instant notification. When the door shut, we also received a notification. The response was fast, and the app interface appeared friendly and easy to navigate.
Smart Home Monitoring is free for Premier users or $5.99 per month for Basic subscribers.
Smart Home Control
Ooma can also act as a hub for Premier subscribers, allowing you to centrally manage multiple smart home devices. Currently, it works with Amazon Alexa for voice control, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Nest, and more.
Amazon Alexa: Using any Alexa-enabled device including Amazon Echo or Dot, you can make a call using your voice. You can make calls by dictating a number to Alexa or by contact name. In addition, you can ask Alexa to check your voicemail. Keep in mind that you aren’t actually communicating through Alexa. Instead, Alexa makes the call for you through your smartphone. Also, Ooma will actually call you first. Once you answer your phone, they will complete the call for you. However, this all changes if you own an Amazon Echo Connect (Amazon Link). With Echo Connect in place, you can make hands-free calls, including hands-free calls to 911.
The skill also allows you to control your Ooma Home security devices. You can arm your system, disarm it, check system status, and more.
Google Assistant: The Google Assistant integration offers similar features to Alexa. Using your favorite Google Home device, you can arm the system, check system status, or disarm it with a command and a PIN.
Works With Nest: When you combine Ooma and Nest, Nest will tell Ooma when you’re home or away. If you’re away from home, Ooma will automatically forward calls. When you return home, Ooma will stop forwarding calls. Also, you can receive phone calls if Nest Protect detects smoke.
IFTTT: Using IFTTT, you can connect Ooma to hundreds of other devices and services. For example, you can get a notification on your iOS or Android device if someone you know calls. You can even set your lights to blink when you receive calls, or you can turn your Hue lights pink when you receive a voicemail. Ooma does not currently offer any IFTTT actions, but it has several triggers. Ooma can trigger another device to act if any of the following happen: new voicemail, incoming call, incoming call from known number, and incoming call from unknown number.
Dropbox: Ooma can drop your voicemails into Dropbox for safe keeping.
Butterfleye: In 2018, Ooma acquired Butterfleye, a maker of cordless home security cameras. The camera integrates with the Ooma app which allows you to create relationships between your sensors and the camera. For example, if someone opens your door, Butterfleye can record.
You can learn more about Butterfleye here.
Smart Home Protection
So Ooma’s a phone, a smart home hub, a security system, and perhaps even a way to protect your connected devices. Coming soon, Ooma is rolling out Smart Home Protection. Ooma plans to stay on top of threats via real-time updates thanks to a partnership with a company called Zscaler. The service will allow Ooma to block threatening sites, fishy email links, block inappropriate internet content, and even protect all your smart home devices from things like malware and spyware.
To get started, you will need to install your Ooma Telo between your modem and router. Smart Home Protection also requires an additional subscription fee ($3.99/month for Basic users, $5.99/month for Premier). It’s certainly a needed solution, one several startups are also trying to solve for. But at the same time, Ooma appears to lack some of the features offered by competing companies, including the ability to configure rules, parental controls, and the ability to ask your permission regarding unusual activity.
Of all the devices I saw at CES, Ooma was one that stood out. Of course, a personal nod of approval from an actual user didn’t hurt.
Even with all the changes they’ve announced, I still see Ooma as a VoIP system first. As a self-monitored security system or even as a smart home hub, the device is too limited. However, if you are using Ooma for VoIP services, certain integrations creatively enhance the experience including the ability to automatically forward calls to your smartphone using Nest’s Home/Away, alternative call notifications via IFTTT Applets, and even the ability to initiate a call with your voice via Amazon Alexa.