Low-budget alternative to ooma

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I've talked before on this site about ooma and how, despite the bad rep from the tech crowd, the company and product have survived and just keep on rolling.

At $200 for the basic service, ooma is a pretty sweet deal. Assuming you're replacing a landline at a baseline cost of $20 per month or more, you break even with a year.

However, if even that is more than you want to spend, and you don't expect to make many calls on your home line, here's a DIY hack that (may be) even cheaper using the PhoneGnome box (or an old unused Linksys/Sipura SPA-3000 if you have one). And this option is easier than Magic Jack if you don't want to leave your computer on all the time.

Officially, PhoneGnome is not a "replacement" service and the company hates being compared to Magic Jack and ooma. Oh well. Here's a DIY hack that works to effectively get rid of your landline and still use standard phones in the house and have a local number that rings at home.

You start with the $99 PhoneGnome device: http://www.phonegnome.com - to save the $99 use their free "upgrade" "Bring your own Device" option to convert a SPA-3000 device: http://www.phonegnome.com/byod.html - get one from Ebay for about $40 (typical price)

When you setup the device at my.phonegnome.com select the No Service Attached option. This is basically their "pure VoIP" option to configure the device as a stand-alone SIP adapter on the PhoneGnome service. Your device will be automatically provisioned with a "VoIP-only" number and this will be your "primary" number as far as PhoneGnome as concerned.

Now you add a phone number and outbound calling service. You can again "Bring your own" since PhoneGnomne fully supports SIP. However, the easy way is to use the "integrated" service options that are built into the my.phonegnome.com provisioning - the prices are competitive, but you can always shop around and configure a third-party service if you wish. I'll only cover using the integrated option here.

Add credits for outbound calling: Sign-in at my.phonegnome.com using your new number and password/PIN (you receive this in an email). Click Buy Credit in the left-hand sidebar under "Quick Links" or click Features / Low Cost Internet Calling. Calls to US numbers are 2.1 cents per minute. Calls to PhoneGnome and other SIP numbers (like Gizmo) are free.

Get a "Home Number": Again at my.phonegnome.com click Features / World Wide Personal Phone Numbers / Purchase and select a phone number. If you want to port your current number, you'll need to contact PhoneGnome - the best way is to click the Trouble Report link at the bottom of the page when signed-in at my.phonegnome.com. Most US numbers are $6.00 setup and $3.25 per month (less if you pay for 3-months or a year at a time in advance). If you don't care about a local number and are really on a budget, you can get a free Washington state number: the PhoneGnome blog describes how.

Done. That's it. With this setup you'll have a local number (or a free Washington state number) that will ring to a normal home telephone and you can make calls, both SIP / VoIP calls (free) and calls to normal telephones. Total investment is $100 (or zero if you already have an SPA-3000 device laying around) plus whatever calls you make.

Caveats: If you make a lot of calls (inside the US, to US numbers), ooma is probably a better deal in the long run. You don't have 911 service in this DIY hack - you will have to rely on your cell phone for 911.

But if you can live with these limitations, this hack gives you a home telephone service on a budget (I won't call it "replacement" service). And it has the advantage of free SIP calls, a free Softphone (something ooma doesn't offer at all), mobile phone integration (poor man's "fixed/mobile convergence") and some geek pluses like APIs and open SIP credentials.

1 comment:

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