Why I gave up on Ooma VOIP, and went back to cable phone service

Posted by Paul Braren on Feb 24 2014 in
  • Network
  • Productivity
  • I had Vonage for 7 years for my 2 phone lines, but the prices crept up to the point where the savings over cable company phone lines had nearly vanished. I then tried Ooma for the past 2 years or so, and the voice quality has been decent. After spending about $220 in hardware to get going with the 2 Ooma telo devices I needed for the 2 lines, the price for the 2 lines of Ooma Premier averages out to about $18 per month. Why would I make the jump to $40 per month for 2 lines in an E-MTA/cablemodem, which is really just cable company VOIP, at an additional cost of $22 per month?

    Over time, I began to notice that I kept talking over other people unintentionally, not knowing they had starting talking, until they were already nearly a second into their sentence. This gets perceived as interrupting. Not good, especially when you spend a lot of time on the phone for your livelihood.

    See also About.com's article, What is Latency?, here's an excerpt:

    Latency has the reputation of being the enemy of VoIP. It is also called lag.


    Here are the effects of latency over voice quality:

    • It slows down your phone conversations
    • Untimeliness can results in overlapping noises, with one speaker interrupting the other
    • Causes echo
    • Disturbs synchronization between voice and other data types, especially during video conferencing

    Recently, I decided to look up the IP address of the server that my Ooma Telo VOIP device was using when placing calls. Simple enough to figure out, I just place a call, then checking in on the WiFi router activity log. There it was, an IP address in California.

    Doing a simple tracert, to show the inevitable delay when traversing the country, It was clear I could attribute only some of the delay to the good old speed of light. Still not really sure what the rest of the delay is.


    So just to rule out things, I opened a ticket with Ooma, to be sure there wasn't some tuning in the Ooma Telo device itself that could be done. Yes, Ooma did some tweaks on their end, not quite explaining what those were. They had me adjust the WAN port on the Telo to DHCP instead of Automatic, and some other settings that appeared to be completely irrelevant. Ultimately, no difference was made. Still a full second of delay, using the echo back 909-390-0003 test phone number. Even when attached directly to the cablemodem, with nothing else using that fat pipe, my 150Mbps down / 30Mbps connection, with a reasonable 31ms of latency. You can test your VOIP speeds (admittedly using a different codec than Ooma uses) at Visualware here, with my results seen at right, with some pretty high SIP Response Times shown at the bottom.

    Opened a ticket with Cox, just to be sure the cross-country readings I was seeing were considered within norms. Yep, Cox had me do several tracert and ping tests, I sent in the results, and they called me back a day later with the results of their analysis:

    Good afternoon.  Our team looked at the results of your tracert and we also looked into the Cox network and we weren't able to find any issues with the Cox network.  The information you provided with the tracert displaying the big jump between hops 5 and 6 is still normal, especially with routing across the country.  I'm sorry that you are experiencing this issue with the Ooma server, but unfortunately, our Cox network is showing it's working properly.  I do appreciate your patience and working with me to investigate the issue.  Have a great day.

    According to what other folks are saying, 117 ms to cross the country is not far out of the norm, for normal residential cable service. See also speed of light and other theoretical minimums discussed here.

    I figured it was time for one last email to Ooma. Can they give me a way to connect my phone calls from a server a lot closer to Connecticut than San Jose, California? It got me a response the next day that gave me a bit of a chuckle:

    Dear PAUL,

    Thank you for contacting Ooma Customer Care. Good day! We are sorry that this isn`t going to work for you. As mentioned before, we only have one server which is in west coast as of yet and we do not have control over with this latency.

    If you decide to port your nos. out of Ooma, we will need to keep your account active while the other provider is in the process of porting your nos. out. Please let us know once that is completed so we can remove your nos. from our database.

    In case you want to stay with us, we can refund half of the amt. you paid for the Annual Premier.

    Please write me back if you have further questions and I will respond to you as quickly as possible.

    Thank you for choosing Ooma!


    Ooma Customer Care Specialist
    Chat Support is now available 24/7
    To reach a live chat agent, please visit us at www.ooma.com/support

    as it implies I was asking them to somehow change the speed of my internet connection across the country. What I was really hoping for was some sort of hope of a local server coming my way soon, and other measures in the Ooma Telo (or newer) device, to further reduce this unacceptably long latency.

    I looked around for alternatives that'd allow me to seamlessly dial so callers would see my Google Voice CallerID instead of my Cox telephone #, circling back to the Ooma alernative so many had recommended in the past. It's the beloved Obihai OBi100. But alas, it seems bad news has arrived there as well,blog.obihai.com/2013/10/important-message-about-google-voice.html.

    Thursday, October 31, 2013

    Important Message About Google Voice and Your OBi Device

    Latest Update from Obihai on 12/31/13: Click Here Google Sets the Date for the End of XMPP with Google Voice

    Recently Google announced the end of support for XMPP based calling with Google Voice. This will happen on May 15, 2014 – that’s over 6 months from today. Since your OBi device uses XMPP to communicate with Google servers, the end of support will directly impact how your OBi device can be used with your Gmail account and its associated Google Voice phone number. Unfortunately, you will no longer be able to use the Google Voice communication service to make calls using the phone connected to your OBi device. Also, the ability to receive calls to your Google Voice number, directly from Google’s service, will not be possible.

    Ok, enough already. Under the stress of leading day and evening emergency calls, I didn't need additional annoyance. It was time I realize it was worth the hassle of replacing my stable Motorola SB6141. Cox offered me the only 8 channel compatible DOCSIS 3 cable modem that they have that also has 2 phone ports. It's the Cisco DPQ3212, and they're not charging me monthly rent for it, nor are there any install fees for me. Cox's listing here, see also Choosing the Right Cable Modem - Cox Communications and Cox Compatible Cable Modems. Unfortunately, unlike Arris/Motorola modems, Cisco modems don't have a customer viewable log file, but my T3 errors dropping my line are largely behind me anyway, my full saga on that over here. Also note that I didn't want a WiFi home router (aka home Gateway), since I like to control all of my security settings myself, and want my own EA6900 providing full 802.11ac to my household. Read more at TinkerTry.com/linksys-ea6900-802-11ac-wifi-router-security-best-practices.

    Then there was the other thing. The switch issue, where AT&T business landline customers couldn't reach my Ooma phone #. Such as my wife, trying to call me from work. This was frustrating, as Ooma would tell me I'd need to work with Vonage to be sure they truly disconnected me (they had, back when Line Number Portability had made the switch to Ooma). And they told me I'd also have to contact AT&T Business Telephone support, who of course wouldn't talk to me, since I'm not their customer.

    So I called Cox on Mon Feb 17, and they had a service technician at my house by 5pm, the very next day. Of course, they're eager for an additional $30 per month for one line, and $10 for the 2nd line, with unlimited long distance of course. While it took us nearly 2 hours to get everything tested and connected just right, in the end, it all seems to be working. At first, we tried a cable splitter, 1/2 signal to the TV, and 1/4 to the SB6141, and 1/4 to the new cable modem, the Cisco DPQ3212. And it worked, but it worked poorly. The speedtest.net and cox.com speed results dropped to about 1/3 normal speeds, in both directions. So time to just replace the SB6141 entirely. A 50/50 split between TV and the new cable modem. [![DPQ3212 working with both phone lines in use](https://tinkertry.com/files/DPQ3212-working-with-both-phone-lines-in-use.png link: http://www.speedtest.net/my-result/3315726706). Even with both phone lines in active use, speed tests of 160 Mbps down and 23 Mbps up, seen at right.. Success. Late at night, with no phone ports busy, I still get up to 180Mbps down and 45Mbps up. So I'm getting all the same speed I was getting out of the SB6141.

    With that all behind me, it was time to dive into the quality of the phone lines. Yes, the 2 Cox lines are really just VOIP again, but at least the QoS is in the cablemodem, and the slowdowns are minimal, given the connection to the Cox network trunk is only 80 miles away, in Providence RI. No QoS tuning required, or allowed actually, but that's ok, it just works.

    Of course, I'd love something like Skype or Google Voice to totally take over my telephony needs. But that day just hasn't arrived yet, for the many calls I place and receive throughout the business day, to and from various businesses across the country. My CallerID must be a consistent phone #, and using Google Voice is the way do that, but at the penalty of considerably longer lag, seen near the end of the video below. Sigh, nothing is perfect. In the video below, you'll also see me using Audacity to actually measure the lag, inspired by [Ooma] Getting bad delay with ooma, was not noticed with Vonage. Here's the results, from the data collected during the video below, when dialing the echo back 909-390-0003 test phone number:

    0.808 seconds round trip lag for Ooma Telo VOIP with wired telephone
    0.446 seconds round trip lag for Cox cable VOIP with wired telephone
    1.055 seconds round trip lag for Cox cable VOIP with wired telephone, using Google Voice

    Pretty clear to me that my Cox is performing nearly twice as fast overall. If I dial in to a conf call from my Cox line, my Ooma line, or my Verizon cellular line, the audio definitely arrives on the Cox line earliest. It's a noticeably better experience than I've been used to for the last 9 years.For me, the extra $23 per month is worth it, for two frequently used phones, avoiding my frustration, and the annoyance of those I'm on the phone with. Yay!

    In the back of my mind though, if Ooma ever does get a server closer to the northeastern United States, I would consider going back, especially if the Google Voice lag is also diminished. And I already miss the seamless Google Voice dialing. I have nothing against Ooma, and I'm glad Vonage had a solid competitor come along. I just wish Ooma had a SIP server closer to me, and a less laggy experience overall than the Ooma Telo seems to be capable of delivering, even when it's attached directly to the cable modem.

    (videp: http://youtu.be/xYY5edG76l0)

    Feb 24 2014 Update:
    Based on first reviews, it appears the Cisco DPQ3212 was released in July 2011 according to this forum post, with more details here.

    The equivalent functionality Arris TM822G Touchstone® DOCSIS 3.0 8x4 Ultra-High Speed Telephony Modem was released in June 2011, according to this forum post, with more details here. The June date of the specifications PDF seems to backup that timeline.

    The equivalent functionality Arris Touchstone® DOCSIS® 3.0 8x4 Telephony Modem TM822A/S was released in Jul 2012, seen in the specifications PDF, with user guide here.

    All that aside, so far, it doesn't appear Cox will support anything but the Cisco DQP3212, seen in this Cox forum thread (which has not received a Cox response).

    Mar 04 2014 Update:
    Still waiting for phone number migration from Ooma to Cox Communications. It took 2 weeks coming in (seen below), was told up to 10 business days for moving out as well, back when I initiated the migration on Mon Feb 24 2014.


    Mar 07 2014 Update:
    The migration of the phone numbers finished up, with one phone line finishing up about 4 hours before the other.

    Providing a copy of my billing activity, just for folks to see the actual cost of Ooma Primier over 2 years of time.


    Apr 04 2014 Update:
    When using Google Voice on my Cox cable company provided phone line, I've noticed it adds roughly 1/2 second (500 ms) of latency to my calls. So to work around this, I dial into conference calls directly from my phone, so the # displayed on CallerID becomes irrelevant (nobody sees it). Still, it's worth noting, and I sure hope Cox offers multi-phone ring someday, so that incoming calls can ring both landline and cellular simultaneously.

    Also note that the difference between Cox and a Verizon cellular call seems to be around 1/3 of a second.

    See also a new Home Tech Podcast I just guested on. In the video segment below, you'll hear me get into the rationale behind my choice to leave Ooma, at least until they get a SIP server a lot closer to Connecticut than California, upping the chances of far less laggy phone call experiences. (48 minutes in)

    Jun 15 2014 Update:
    I have reactivated one of my 2 Ooma Telos for on my unlisted home line that only gets used occasionally, using this Home Server Show refer-a-friend link, so I can move my one Cox line to business grade of service, and go back to a DOCIS 3 modem that has no voice ports.

    I noticed today that when dialing the echo test 909-390-0003 number from that line, I now get a fast busy. It works just fine from Cox phone line. Interesting.