ooma: First Thoughts

I've been testing ooma, a piece of equipment offering free long-distance for life, for the past week. Here are my initial thoughts.

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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