ooma Piggybacks onto Google Voice

Palo Alto, Calif.-based ooma—which offers free VoIP service based on a one-time hardware purchase—is looking to ride some lengthy coattails. The provider of residential IP phone services this month released a suite of tools it says will transfer the power of Google Voiceto the ooma-based home phone.

“We see Google Voice as a really interesting service, especially for the younger crowd,” said ooma Chief Marketing Officer Rich Buchanan. “People are using GMail as their primary e-mail, they may be using Google’s online applications suite, and we wanted to take advantage of that familiarity.”

Google Voice helps users manage their voice communications, primarily on their portable devices. Released March 18, ooma’s Premier Google Voice Extensions are designed to expand upon and enhance those tools for home phone users.

Google Voice comes with some powerful capabilities, Buchanan said, including the ability to utilize a single Google Voice phone number on all of ones devices. Users can specify where a call ought to be routed and can send calls directly to voice mail. The application also allows all outgoing calls to be identified by a single Google Voice caller ID.

The system has its shortcomings, though. Buchanan noted that a user placing a call from home must dial a substantial string of digits in order to have a Google Voice number appear as the caller’s ID.

That’s where the Google Voice Extensions come in. They make it possible for a home user to dial out directly and still be recognized by a Google Voice number. “We allow you to set up your ooma caller ID as your Google Voice ID with out all the dialing rigmarole,” he said.

Google Voice will machine-translate voice messages into text, which can then be delivered to the user’s mobile device. ooma takes it one step further, displaying these messages on a user’s handset. This in turn augments ooma’s own voice forwarding capability, whereby voice mail can be converted to WAV or MP3 format and passed on to the user via e-mail.

In its efforts to piggyback on Google Voice, ooma has been well served by its own long reliance on technology from Grand Central, a service Google acquired in July 2007 and the driving force behind Google Voice.

“A number of our engineers have been using Grand Central for over a year as part of our own beta test, so when Google finally released its information on Google Voice, we could see there some of the things we had already been doing with its precursor, Grand Central,” Buchanan said.

While ooma has no formal relationship with either Google or Grand Central, the company’s existing comfort level with Grand Central likely was a contributing factor in its ability to rapidly deploy its extension package.

The extensions won’t be a source of any direct revenue to ooma, at least not under the company’s present business model. Again, ooma sells a device—a sophisticated router and network processor running embedded Linux—through some 1,300 retail outlets including all major electronics web site. The $250 device brings with it free North American phone service for life.

In this light, the Google Voice extensions are less a product than an enhancement—a value-add for consumers looking for a reason to try a new kind of telephony.

“We want an ooma phone system for a consumer to be absolutely cutting-edge technology. They are investing in a whole new way of thinking about phones and we want to be sure that every brilliant tool that is available for high performance telephony is available to any ooma consumer,” Buchanan said.

Along those lines ooma is looking toward a summer release of its next-generation Telo phone, expected to incorporate high-performance IP networking around the home, based on the licensed spectrum of DECT 6.0 rather than on less reliable Wi-Fi protocols, Buchanan said. The technology will enable such devices as an IP picture frame to identify incoming calls by a display of the caller’s Facebook profile pic.

Meanwhile, Buchanan is betting Google Voice will soon be making waves in the marketplace. “The fact they are offering it for free makes it pretty compelling and pretty interesting,” he said. “It certainly is a powerful tool, especially for small business owners who want to have the phone route to them wherever they happen to be.”

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