Ted on Tech: Do landlines still make sense?

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I have a love/hate relationship with my landline. On one hand, 99 percent of the calls I receive on it are robocalls, or someone telling me I’ve won large sums of money or a “free” vacation. On the other hand, it usually gives a much clearer call than my cell phone when I make outgoing calls, and I’ve had a landline for my entire adult life, and many friends/relatives have only my landline number if they want to get in touch with my wife of myself.

These days, I give out my cell number to those who I expect (or want) a call from, not my landline. So the fate of my landline is somewhat up in the air. The only thing saving it at the moment is that it’s actually less expensive to get the phone service along with my Internet and TV service than dropping it and keeping the other two components.

But when you shift the discussion to a practice, it’s a quite different story, especially if your practice consists of just you. Sure, a sole practitioner with no other staff can get away with just a cell phone. The days where needing to have a receptionist to answer the phone are (hopefully) well in the past. And even if you do have a landline, it’s a simple matter most of the time to have it forward calls to your cell when you are out of the office.

Things get more complicated when there’s more than just you. It makes sense to have just one central number where clients and others can reach anyone in the practice. And these days, it’s pretty easy and cost effective to get a virtual PBX (Private Branch Exchange). Back in the day, you had a human answering the phone and directing the call. Today, it’s done by computer. And most virtual PBX systems are also VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, bypassing the old POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) that used analog voice signaling over copper telephone lines.

Going digital

Recently, I was offered the opportunity to test a fairly sophisticated VoIP system from ooma. I’m not exactly a novice when it comes to VoIP, though I’m hardly an expert either. Years ago, I installed a Microsoft ResponsePoint small business phone system from D-Link back in 2008 when it was introduced. With that system, as with ooma Office, there’s a central adapter that plugs into your router or an Internet switch, and the phones themselves simply plug into an Ethernet jack on your network.

Ooma Office is similar. There’s a base station that plugs into your router or, in my case, a handy switch. But before you can do anything, you have to go online and activate your account. This involves setting up phone numbers, or porting a current number to the ooma service, as well as establishing extensions. You can also set up a variety of messages, music on hold and call following (forwarding to another number or cell phone after hours or if you are out of the office. You can set up virtual ring groups, with several extensions ringing simultaneously, though all of these don’t have to be established at initial setup.

Once you’ve set up the account and extensions, you can plug the base station into the router or switch and wait for it to be recognized. Setting up the Yealink IP business phone that Ooma included wasn’t difficult, but I did manage to screw it up anyway by entering the wrong model number for the type of phone being used. This caused the phone not to be recognized. Fortunately, a quick call to ooma’s customer service corrected my error, and I had a dial tone. Total time to get up and running was well under an hour including the time I spent correcting my mistake.

At about twenty dollars per user, Ooma’s Office system is less expensive, or on par, with other VoIP systems such as those from Ring Central, Vonage, and others. There’s no charge for calls within the U.S. or Canada, and International calls are inexpensive. The base station and two Lynx adapters, which let you use standard analog phones as extensions, is priced at $99, and the YeaLink SIP phone Ooma provided me with will cost another $99, though they also offer a less expensive model for $59. You have to purchase the IP phones from ooma as these have custom firmware to work with the Ooma base station. I checked prices for this model and getting it from most other sources costs the same $99.

Ooma also offers a less expensive alternative, Telo, which is really targeted at a home user but looks like it might be a good alternative for a sole practitioner with no other employees. It also costs $99, but the monthly charge for the basic phone service consists only of the applicable telecommunications tax which runs about four or five dollars a month. Another ten dollars a month gets you a second line and additional features.

I’m really impressed with Ooma Office. It was easy to set up (especially if I had paid attention to the instructions), has great voice quality, excellent customer service the one time I had to use it, and actually costs less than my bundled landline from FioS. Since I’m a single employee business, the ooma Telos might actually be a better choice for me, but if you are looking to upgrade your landline, Ooma Office is most definitely worth a hard look.

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