Ooma Administration and Call Routing
In addition to the aforementioned five physical extensions, the Ooma Office small business phone system also supports 15 virtual extensions that don't ring any phone but rather go directly to voice mail (and you can check them remotely by dialing in). Virtual extensions can also forward incoming calls through to a mobile phone, or to any other number for that matter.
Calls to physical extensions can also be automatically forwarded to other numbers while simultaneously ringing at the user's desk. For these call forwarding scenarios, the Ooma Office provides a "require key press on answer" option, which ensures that if a call hits voice mail at the forwarded number, the caller is routed back to the Ooma Office to leave a message. This ensures that work-related messages remain within the company phone system.
You can customize almost every customer-facing aspect of the Ooma Office. You can modify the greeting spoken by the synthesized voice of the virtual attendant and have different greetings spoken depending on whether or not a call comes in during business hours. If you don't like the synthesized voice (it's actually quite agreeable), you can record your own greeting, though you must do so by uploading an audio file in MP3 or WAV format.
Unfortunately you can't record a virtual attendant greeting into a phone as users can do for their own extensions. The Ooma supports custom audio for calls on hold and for call transfers—again by uploading either a WAV or MP3 file.
Figure 2: The two included Linx devices (Ooma supports up to four) let you add extensions without any wiring.
The Ooma Office also provides a high degree of control over how soon an incoming call will go to voice mail—you can choose anything from 10 seconds (after one ring) to 180 seconds (after 30 rings), and do so in 1-second increments and on a per-extension basis. You can send voice mails to the user as MP3 email attachments, though there's no way to send a voice mail message to a different user or to multiple users. You can minimize the odds of a customer having to deal with voice mail by setting up ring groups, which allow incoming calls to ring multiple extensions or forwarded numbers at the same time.
It's also important to note that although the Ooma Office is a device that lives on your office network, you don't have to be in the office to make configuration changes via the Ooma Web portal. Unfortunately there's only one administrator account, so you can't delegate certain non-critical functions—e.g. control over whether/where to forward an extension or how quickly voice mail answers—to an office manager or to the employees themselves.
Potential User Learning Curve
One other caveat: because the Ooma Office uses off-the-shelf phones rather than a system-specific model, you don't get dedicated buttons for functions such as call hold, transfer, and voice mail access. You can still do all these things with the Ooma Office of course, but they must be done by methods that may not necessarily be obvious to phone users, and this may represent a bit of a learning curve.
For example, you dial your own extension number to access voice mail, press Flash to put a call on hold, and transfer calls using one of several asterisk-plus-digit combos depending on the method of transfer (direct, announced, or straight to voice mail). You can look up how to use various functions on Ooma's website, but including a cheat sheet (perhaps a printable PDF) would have been welcome.
The Bottom Line
How does the Ooma Office compare price-wise with alternatives? An Ooma Office setup with five physical extensions and five phone lines would set you back around $600 upfront (assuming $250 to start, $100 for two extra Linx devices, and $50 per phone) and cost $100 a month for service (not including taxes).
That compares favorably with, say, purely cloud-based RingCentral, which doesn't require an on-site base station but charges $100 or more for each VoIP phone and $150 for the same five lines (or $125 if you're willing to sign an annual contract). The Ooma Office would also cost far less than the equivalent business-class VoIP phone service from a local cable provider, which typically costs north of $60 per line, requires lengthy contracts, and assesses hefty installation and activation fees up front.
Of course, these services offer somewhat more sophistication and expansion potential than the Ooma Office. Still, if you're looking for simple, powerful, and inexpensive business phone service for a small office and can live with five physical extensions, the Ooma Office is a good option to consider.
Price: $250 for base unit kit (phones and service extra)
Pros: easy setup and administration; requires no wiring or specific phones; low initial and ongoing cost with no contract commitment
Cons: currently limited to five physical extensions
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.
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