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Linux device offers free phone calls for life

Jul 19, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

A startup is readying an interesting new Linux-based device promising to deliver free domestic calls (in the U.S.) for life, with no ongoing charges. Ooma's hub uses P2P networking, with each user's landline serving as a potential local termination point for all other users.

(Click for larger view of Ooma hub mockup)

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In a podcast interview with eWEEK's Jim Rapoza, Ooma CEO Andrew Frame said the company has the same investors as Skype, and works like a hardware version of Skype that's more suitable for mainstream consumers. “Skype is usable on the road. We're serving the user's home, not their laptop or PC,” he said.

Ooma's service revolves around the Ooma hub (depicted above), which goes on sale for $400 in September. The hub appears to be a Linux device, since the company boasts of its Linux device development know-how, and is currently seeking to employ additional embedded Linux developers. Ooma did not respond prior to publication time.

The hub connects to the user's broadband Internet network, and optionally to their landline, if they have one. When connected to a landline, the hub serves as a “P2P termination resource” that bridges other Ooma users to POTS (plain old telephone service) within the user's local calling area.

In order to seed Ooma's P2P network, the company will give away about 2,000 of the devices under a “white rabbit” program, Frame said. Additionally, for calls to locations where no Ooma users exist yet, the company will terminate calls itself, through a conventional VoIP-to-POTS gateway service. Such calls will still be free to the user, however, Frame said.

Additional touted Ooma features include:

  • $40 “Scout” devices adapt multiple phones in the house to the Ooma network
  • Distinctive “Ooma dialtone” lets users know that broadband is up, and that calls are free
  • Fails over to normal dialtone if broadband is down
  • Second line:
    • Supports two outbound calls
    • With one line in use, other phones ring on incoming call
  • Broadband answering machine
    • Messages audible while being recorded, for old fashioned call screening
    • One-touch message access
    • AJAX web interface for remote message retrieval
    • Web interface stays synchronized with hub
  • Supports e911 emergency service for non-landline users
  • International calling accounts with rates and prepayment structure similar to Skype

While Ooma offers the prospect of free calls for life, its success depends somewhat on wide adoption. Frame admits that should Ooma go out of the business, the Ooma devices would no longer work. He reckons the company's prospects of success are good, though. “We have a Peer-to-peer cost structure. The economics of providing the service are almost zero,” he said.

The complete eWEEK podcast can be found here.

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