One of the more interesting unconference sessions today was the OOMA conversation. Dennis Peng, product manager at OOMA, took part in a conversation with Tom Howe, moderated by Jon Arnold, about Ooma.
Dennis positioned OOMA as allowing you "own your residential telephone service". It costs $399 for the life of the product, and includes the basic three features of OOMA – instant second line, the broadband answering machine, and unlimited US calling. One of the initial features that generated a lot of talk was the distributed termination feature, which naturally led to a discussion of privacy.
A number of people commented on the ways that one might be able to tap into the distributed termination. OOMA's strategy is to monitor for customer systems, and not route calls through systems that have been tapped. After being pressed further, all Dennis would say was that the company takes privacy very very seriously.
Carl Ford commented that distributed termination, and monitoring implies headcount and expense. How, he asks, can you scale the business when the fees don't? Sounds like a ponzi scheme!
According to Dennis, Ooma sees distributed termination as a stop gap. Value added services is where they want to make money. Naturally this elicited a skeptical response from Tom, who asked how this is different from the Sunrocket / Vonage model.
Dennis' answer was very interesting. The OOMA rich ui and developer model is one of the first very functional devices out there. Its architecture breaks the "bus network" of the home and lets them implement new services that you can't currently implement — they're thinking about personalization and other services that come on cell phone today, but not on home phone. When Tom pressed, asking why OOMA's services would succeed when other value added services didn't, Dennis answered that the scope of services to date have been limited. Hard to argue with that.
Jon Arnold chimed in at this point, and said that the experience of using OOMA was fantastic, which Tom also concurred with.
Dennis finished by talking about their vision for the future. He noted that this is the first time phones in the home have been networked. As their services rolled out, they wanted to have more and more value added services, not just related to voice but to other media. Naturally, it begs the question — when do these folks intersect the home networks that Microsoft and/or Cisco are building.