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Programming - DevOps - Project Management - Information Security

Telephone Ouroboros

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Ah, the 21st century, where everyone has at least a half-dozen phone numbers! Maybe when the singularity comes, one number will suffice. In the meantime, life is complicated by a cornucopia of landlines, cell phones, VoIP phones, Google Voice numbers, and virtual office numbers. Sadly, the madness doesn’t end there.

In addition to the profusion of devices, each device requires a separate phone number, and sports its own (possibly overlapping, but always incompatible) feature set for:

  • call-forwarding
  • multi-ring patterns
  • multi-device ringing
  • single-line, multi-ring device selection

You don’t have to be a Luddite to find this situation intolerable. One often needs a flow-chart just to figure out which numbers ring where, and it can take half an afternoon to reconfigure everything when a single device in the chain goes out of service, some firmware gets upgraded, or when one tempts fate by daring to swap out an aging component for a newer gadget.

I have been using my Ooma VoIP service very happily for years. I won’t go into all the gory details of which devices forward to what—and in what convoluted order—in order to make my Ooma system the “One [Telephone] Ring to Rule Them All,” but it works. However, this morning I ran face-first into a painful metaphor.

You see, Ooma works great as a VoIP device and as a replacement for an old-fashioned answering machine. It was not, however, designed as a PBX or modern multi-user voicemail system. While you can set up as many as 8 phone numbers, each with a separate ring pattern, you are still fundamentally limited to two phone lines and a single voicemail box.

Today, my wife needed a new number for her business, and I thought this would be a cake-walk. Why, I’d just set up a new number, assign it to an Ooma Scout, and plug a multi-handset DECT phone system into it. Boom: instant home office!

Well, no. After provisioning the new line, it turns out that even though I can get the new number to ring through to just my wife’s home-office handsets, she can’t set up her own voicemail messages or forward unanswered calls to a cell phone or Google Voice number separate from mine. With Ooma, we are forced to share those features, which completely invalidated this morning’s mission objective.

Hmmm. Well, who doesn’t love a new gadget? I said to myself, “I know! I’ll just buy a second Ooma device for my wife and solve the problem that way!” What a great idea…except that the Ooma Hub has been discontinued, and the new Ooma Telo requires a proprietary Ooma Telo Handset to use the second-line feature.

With the old Ooma Hub and some multi-handset cordless phone systems, you could attach up to twelve handsets to eight phone numbers with two simultaneously-active lines. However, the new Ooma Telo requires a proprietary handset to use the second line feature while another line is in use, although you can still use a non-proprietary system on the first line.

To make matters worse, according to Ooma:

There is no way to access the Instant Second Line unless you use an Ooma Telo Handset.

Since the Ooma Telo only supports up to 4 (proprietary) handsets, this is obviously a lot more lock-in and a lot less flexibility than one had with the old Ooma Hub. In the end, since it’s only a 2-line system anyway, maybe it doesn’t matter as much as I imagine, but it still seems like it breaks a valid use case for some customers (e.g. me and my wife).

Whatever we end up doing, the problem won’t be solved today, and I’m pretty sure the singularity won’t arrive before anything I order from Amazon Prime shows up on the doorstep. In the meantime, it looks like our phone system will continue to eat its own tail for a little while longer.

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