Ooma: HDVoice For The Thrifty Consumer

ooma-teloOoma has been around for quite some time. While the core of their service offering is free domestic long distance one you’ve bought the hardware, they have also made some effort to promote improved call quality…all the way to HDVoice.

The companies end-point device, a $199 device known as “Telo”, can be inserted inline with an existing landline, making your traditional home phone both voip and analog-capable. It can also be inserted inline with your internet access. Connected in this manner it provides managed quality of service (QoS) for voip traffic on your network. This is a sensible strategy, well established in many ATA type devices.

Telo is actually Linux-based and runs an instance of Freeswitch to handle its telephony functions. That open source project has consistently moved quickly to deploy new technologies…especially new HDVoice codecs. Ooma leverages this fact in offering what they call “PureVoice.”

logo_purevoice_hd.pngPureVoice includes a number of interesting aspects. Most significantly it supports wideband audio calling to other Ooma users. They also claim to provide both call encryption and adaptive redundancy (aka forward error correction) in the media stream.

Ooma-HD2-handset-200pxThe HDVoice aspect of the service is exposed in a several ways. Ooma users can purchase an optional DECT handset known as the “Ooma Telo Handset.” The Telo handset should look familiar to readers hereabouts. It’s very similar to some of the Gigaset DECT handsets. I believe that Ooma buys the handsets from Gigaset, who have considerable design and manufacturing prowess.

At CES2012 Ooma announced a second generation of the Telo handset called simply HD2. Given the rate at which Gigaset turns over models it would make a certain amount of sense that Ooma would have a new model handset this year. It’s unclear if the HD2 handset is actually shipping yet.

Like Gigaset before them, Ooma is pitching the HD2 handset as capable of doing things that you would normally associate with a smart phone, like syncing contacts with services like Facebook or Google Voice. You can also access its contact list via the companies web-based user portal.

Secondly, Ooma offers soft clients for iOS and  Android mobile phones. These soft phones are said to be HDVoice capable. Ahem, they “feature Ooma’s PureVoice™ HD Technology.” Of course, you must already be an Ooma customer to make use of the soft phones.

Finally, and I do find this part a little irregular, the company’s web site says reports that users can take advantage of HDVoice using a regular corded phone! They go on to list a number of models that they recommend as being up to the task.

rotary-phone I remain a little dubious about this claim. As far as I know any device that connects to the PSTN must meet certain technical standards. Some of those standards specify that the device should not pass out-of-band information into the network. That is, analog phones are supposed to roll-off the high-frequency audio content in order to ensure the proper operation of the network.

On that basis, I doubt that an Ooma user would get the full PureVoice experience by way of an analog handset plugged into their Telo device. However, this is not the first time that such an idea idea has been lofted, so I am prepared to be corrected if necessary.

I would have included Ooma in my series on Making Use Of HDVoice Right Now! except that they present a rather limited way of leveraging HDVoice. An Ooma user can only achieve HDVoice calls to other Ooma users. Of course, calls to other Ooma users are always free, which is great of you are able to equip some of your friends and family in a similar manner.

It’s not clear to me that an Ooma user can call anyone by way of SIP URI. Nor do I know if Ooma is participating in any IP-based peering. If they were to start exchanging traffic via IP vs TDM then Ooma users could achieve HDVoice calling to customers other enlightened service providers.

Last fall Larry Magid of CNET did a podcast with Eric Stang, CEO of Ooma. It’s a good interview, well worth a listen. Mr. Stang mentions that some of their devices end up overseas such that people can make free, high-quality calls to otherwise expensive destinations. That makes perfect sense to me.

What doesn’t make sense is that the podcast itself didn’t showcase the HDVoice capability. I think it would have been well worth the effort, given that the company is using audio quality as a key selling point.

I’ve created a screencast video of the podcast playing inside Adobe Audition. As is my habit, the display is set to show energy vs frequency. This shows very clearly the added high-frequency energy where Larry speaks, compared to the G.711 based audio when Eric is speaking.

The G.711 based call from the Telo device is certainly as good as could be expected, which is no small feat. Pity they didn’t make the effort to show off the HDVoice capability.

Ooma provides yet another avenue for the retail consumer to both save money and enjoy high-quality telephony, potentially featuring HD Voice. They offer a novel and attractive bundle of features that some will no doubt find compelling.

P.S. – Ooma is a sponsor of ClueCon, the annual conference for the Freeswitch user community. I think that’s pretty cool.

P.P.S. – FWIW, I have twice invited the company to appear as a guest on a VUC call. I would love to pose some questions to them directly. To date they have not responded.

  • I don’t think there are any requirements on the analog handsets on the frequency band they should adhere to. If the mic, speaker and the plastics are designed to handle HD, then they can. But any A/D conversion unit will utilize G.711 codec which will sample only at 3.1 kHz. 

    • mjgraves

      Aswath, 

      Purely analog phones are in fact very rare in retail. Recent visits to major retailers have revealed aisles full of electronic phones, both wired and wireless. As you note these are designed around narrowband PSTN specs.

      FWIW, Gigaset is working with Arris to provide DECT phones with wideband capable analog line jacks. This could allow the CableCo’s to deploy HDVoice via existing CPE.

      VTech has made noise about the call quality of their latest DECT systems. It’s unclear if that translates to the analog line jack or only impacts calls between extensions.

  • Sean

    I’m happy to hear that this device runs on freeswitch but I’d rather have an IP phone. 😉