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Ooma and Vonage offer options for attorneys

Jane Pribek//December 18, 2009//

Ooma and Vonage offer options for attorneys

Jane Pribek//December 18, 2009//

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Is it time you reconsidered your relationship with Ma Bell?

Milwaukee attorney Joseph Seifert hasn’t broken it off with her entirely, but he’s darn close. He’s found two great, price-conscious alternatives in VoIP services, ooma and Vonage.

Seifert keeps Ma around in his downtown Milwaukee law office, Seifert Law Center, for her cheap DSL line. It’s only $75 per month, and she threw in a free phone. The next closest in price was Road Runner, offering a faster connection, but at $100/month. He just didn’t need the extra speed.

Seifert does use the Ma Bell line occasionally for local calls – and gets telemarketing calls on it, much to his annoyance.

Not so with his ooma and Vonage lines. But more importantly, Ma can’t touch them when it comes to affordability and great service for voice and faxing.

Seifert was still in law school when he became a customer of both about five years ago. He happily and seamlessly used them as a penny-pinching student for a semester abroad at Oxford.

The sound quality is fine, and he’s never had a dropped call.

With ooma, you make a one-time investment by buying the device bundle, which consists of a “hub” and a “scout.” You don’t pay for monthly service.

To use ooma, you need a high-speed Internet connection and a phone line. You plug the hub into your DSL Internet connection, and the scout into the phone line.

You then go to the ooma Web site to activate your hub. Enter your hub MAC address, which is listed on the device or box. In about two hours’ time, it should be ready for use, says Seifert.

If you plan on using ooma with your existing landline – some people do that to retain 911 service, or they want phone service even if the Internet is unavailable – you can keep your phone number. If you want pure Internet service, as Seifert does, you’ll have to choose a new number for the interim, before porting an existing number. Or just keep the ooma number of your choosing.

And about that 911 service: Seifert says you can register a 911 address with ooma.

In order to make free unlimited calls to any phone in the U.S. with ooma, you need to be in the U.S. While it’s possible to use ooma in the States to call another ooma user outside the U.S., Seifert says, some countries don’t allow ooma use. Ooma does sell credits for international calling, which are reasonably priced. He tried it once but was disappointed with the billing.

Vonage is the better deal for international calls, says Seifert, who frequently calls family in Eastern Europe.

He also has a second, dedicated Vonage fax line, which he says is more reliable than faxing with ooma.

In the time he’s used both services, he says that he’s lost phone service once, when the Internet connection wasn’t working – it wasn’t a problem with ooma or Vonage. But he just used his cell phone during that time.

Now let’s look at what Seifert spends.

He invested $241 for ooma several years ago (it’s even cheaper now, around $200), which means it paid for itself a long time ago as compared to monthly service. If ooma goes out of business, he’ll be stuck with a useless device, but that was a chance he was willing to take.

Ooma does bill Seifert $11 annually for a federal recovery tax – apparently, even if you can fire Ma Bell, you’re stuck with Uncle Sam’s expense.

The Vonage voice line is $25 per month for unlimited international calling to Mexico, Canada and Europe. (That’s the basic plan; Asia, Africa and South America cost more).

The Vonage fax line costs $10 per month to receive an unlimited number of incoming faxes, and Seifert can send 250 minutes of outgoing faxes per month. He never exceeds that, but if he did, it’s an additional 5 cents per fax.

Seifert uses the premier ooma service for his home, which costs an extra $120 per year, and features three-way conference calling, an instant second line, call forwarding, free porting of an existing number (otherwise that’s $40), extra privacy, etc. The basic ooma that he uses at the office lacks those bells and whistles – it just has caller ID, call waiting and enhanced digital voicemail – but it’s good enough for his purposes.

The lone downside Seifert has found with ooma, which doesn’t really affect him because his business is largely from referrals, is that his number isn’t listed in the regular Yellow Pages. But he’s convinced that most prospects don’t use the Yellow Pages anymore.

All this means you have some options for saving money on all those long-distance calls to family and friends over the rapidly approaching holidays.

Jane Pribek is a staff writer for the Wisconsin Law Journal, another Dolan Media publication.

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