My church had been dissatisfied by the service from its phone carrier. Multiple annoyances led the office staff to seek an alternative but the most telling was that the phone system was difficult to manage. Most troubling was that the staff could not change call forwarding from outside the office.
The incumbent was providing 2 line business service using VoIP off the cable. The cable split between a carrier provided ATA and a Motorola SurfBoard cable modem feeding a Linksys WiFI router. The carrier provides a custom front end web site for managing phone service that was proving difficult to navigate and use. And we were paying about $80/month for service. The box supported two AT&T office desk sets that are somewhat clunky to use.
Given the office’s frustrations I began looking about for alternatives and found Ooma for Business. Ooma for Business is Ooma’s small business VOiP offering and is similar to its home offering in many ways but different in ways important to businesses. And different in some ways important to UCN.
- Calling for 3 staff members, Minister, Office Administrator, and religious education director.
- Ability to call out while an inbound call was active
- Call forwarding for 3 internal phones
- Voice mail for 3 internal phones
- A single inbound number.
- Auto-attendant to free the office administrator to roam the building as needed.
- Off-site management during weather closures
- Off-site voice mail access during weather closures
Testing your ISP Service
Ooma for Business requires about 256 Kbps or so of bandwidth to service an active call plus the auto-attendant. You can verify an adequate Internet service using the speed test on the Ooma support pages. This test verifies through-put, latency, and latency jitter. Successful completion of this test is recommended prior to ordering.
Ooma Premisses Equipment
The Ooma premisses equipment is a trade paperback sized black box with 2 Ethernet ports and a POTS port that connects to the Ethernet. You may connect it between the gateway router and switch using the two Ethernet ports or to an inside port on the switch. If you have a robust service, the internal location is preferred. With DSL service, connection between the DSL modem and switch is preferred.
The little black box runs a tailored instance of Asterix private branch exchange software that supports internal calling, an auto-attendant, and voice mail.
In addition, the base system comes with two DECT 6.0 Linx devices. These provide a wireless connection for a regular 1 line business or home phone with caller ID support. The base configuration supports 3 internal lines, one on the PBX device and 2 using included Linx devices. Two additional Linx devices may be added with current firmware for a total of 5 extensions. Future releases of software are expected to increase this to a total of 10 local RJ-11 drops.
The system can support an additional 10 virtual extensions. A virtual extension pairs a PBX number with a POTS phone number somewhere in the US or Canada. The PBX forwards the call to the paired number. To the caller it appears as a local call. This is very similar to Google Voice forwarding a call to your mobile number to your home phone.
The Ooma PBX also has a teleconference bridge. This service requires an additional extension to be used for joining conferences.
Ooma’s marketing is a bit confusing on how Ooma for Business works. The best way to learn is to read the support pages. You purchase 2 resource types from OOMA, phone numbers and internal destinations (extensions or virtual extensions).
A phone number is a 10 digit dialed telephone service address associated with the system. UCN needed one of these.
An extension is an internal port that is able to make and receive calls. These come in 3 varieties.
- The RJ-11 POTS port on the Ooma PBX
- The RJ-11 POTS port on each Ooma Linx wireless device
- Virtual extensions.
It seems obvious that you would pay for numbers but shouldn’t extensions be free? Why is Ooma charging for them? The Ooma PBX creates one “line” for each extension. They are 100 percent provisioned for external service access. All may be active on external calls simultaneously. Most large scale branch exchanges assume that most calls will be internal and that some fraction will be external. This is an invalid assumption in a small office context.
Virtual extensions are internal extensions that are paired with a POTS phone number, typically a home office or mobile number.
UCN needed 3 extensions and 0 virtual extensions.
Ooma prices the business service based on numbers and extensions.
- Numbers are $20 per month
- Extensions are $10 per month
- Taxes, 911, and universal service fund are $5/month per number.
UCN’s bill is about $55 per month
The auto attendant uses a synthesized voice to deliver a greeting and directory information. It has different greetings and behavior for business hours and non-business hours.
- During business hours, you can dial an extension
- Outside business hours, it sends you to extension voice mail or to the common office closed voice mail queue.
This behavior is customizable and each day of the week can be a business day or a closed day. Each day of the week can have different business hours but only one period per day of business hours.
The system is bring your own device. Any RJ-11 POTS phone (desk set or cordless) may be used provided that it has an electronic ringer. The RJ-11 ports do not have the heft to power mechanical ringers or some older caller ID desk sets.
The system does not support direct pairing of DECT 6 wireless phones with the Ooma base station. Ooma uses a high definition voice codec to communicate between the base station and Linx end points. Ooma’s HD hand sets will not pair with the Ooma Business base station in current form.
The system provides voice mail delivery in several ways.
- Directly to the handset. Dialing the handset’s number takes you to its voice mail queue.
- By E-mail. Ooma also delivers the recorded message by E-mail as an audio file attachment to an E-mail address paired with the extension. Transcription is not currently supported.
- Voice mail can be managed from off site using a web browser.
During power outages and Internet fades, Ooma HQ picks up service and will take messages in much the same way that your mobile carrier sends calls to voice mail when a mobile handset is indisposed. Ooma will read or play your recorded announcement and direct callers to voice mail.
Voice mails will be queued for delivery on site and delivered by E-mail as described above.
UCN has experienced one service interruption associated with our router loosing its DHCP leases from our ISP. Basically, everything inside the router lost DNS access. Restarting the router and Ooma PBX corrected the problem.