UCaaS provider Ooma, this week, announced “Ooma Wi-Fi
,” an add-on service for Ooma Office—its cloud-based UC service aimed at small to mid-size businesses (SMBs). Wi-Fi has become increasingly important for them, yet it remains one of the more difficult technologies to deploy. Large enterprises will spend beaucoup dollars on enterprise-grade systems that are highly sophisticated, and even with those, high-level engineers spend a significant amount of time troubleshooting. Consumers also know the pain of putting a Wi-Fi access point (AP) in their home and having it not work correctly to support Netflix, Xbox Live, or excessive video use as we all work remotely.
Small businesses are in the tough predicament of not having local IT staff and often needed multiple APs to cover their office space. For this offering, Ooma has partnered with Extreme Networks, which recently acquired Aerohive, to deliver advanced cloud and management capabilities. This partnership gives Ooma SMB customers the same type of features that enterprises have without recruiting technical resources. Examples include:
- Multiple SSIDs (wireless network names)—Many SMBs use a single Wi-Fi network, but it’s often wise to separate business traffic from guests. For example, a restaurant may wish to offer patrons Wi-Fi but don’t want to reveal its private wireless password. Ooma can configure the network to have multiple for things like employee computers, mobile devices, IP voice, and guests.
- Quality of Service (QoS)—The Extreme APs does an excellent job of handling voice over its Wi-Fi APs. The network can be configured to prioritize Wi-Fi phones over other types of data to maintain consistent performance even with a heavy network load.
- Guest network abuse prevention—A custom splash page can be configured for guest login with terms of service agreements to control how and when guests can access. Abuse prevention capabilities include setting bandwidth limits and blocking malicious users.
- Enterprise class equipment—All of the Extreme APs are built “enterprise-grade” and provide options for internal 3x3 MU-MIMO antennas for demanding environments. Extreme also offers software-defined radios to improve coverage and capacity.
- Low touch set up—The Wi-Fi APs will come pre-configured by Ooma, making them plug and play at the customer site. Ooma also offers 24/7 customer support to diagnose problems and make repairs.
Ooma will be offering three flavors of APs. The Extreme AP 250 branded as the Ooma AP 250 is the highest performing, and provides coverage for up to 3,000 square feet, while the Extreme/Ooma 150 has about 1,000. Meanwhile, the AP 30 is a Wi-Fi extender for wireless mesh connectivity.
Ooma certainly doesn’t get the fanfare of a company like RingCentral or Zoom, but they have quietly built a strong business and are a legitimate, lower-cost option compared to the “big boys” in UCaaS. In the past five years, Ooma revenue has doubled from $72M in 2015 to a 2020 run rate of $152M During the pandemic, Ooma was also a strong performer as the stock price rose from below $8 per share in March to $17 currently. That kind of run-up should give customers confidence in Ooma’s ability to continue to fuel innovation into the business.
The UCaaS industry is progressively becoming price competitive, and all of the vendors are looking for additional revenue opportunities. Managed Wi-Fi is an excellent add on to the voice services as the quality of the network plays a key role in user experience. The Ooma service is priced at $11.99 for the first AP under management and $6.99 for each additional.
One industry trend that should increase interest in this offering is the flexible workplace that so many companies will adopt when people return to the office. It’s unlikely that everyone will return to the office in full, post-pandemic. What’s more likely is that people will work in shifts or come into the office a few days a week, which will cause companies to downsize their real estate and look for greater workplace flexibility. That, in turn, will drive more use of wireless as people will be sharing desks or be on the move within buildings looking for places to work temporarily. SMBs may have to upgrade their Wi-Fi, but as I pointed out, they may not have the skills to deploy the technology and tune it for the demands of voice and video.
Kudos to Ooma for making Wi-Fi an optional purchase for its voice service, and it’s something I think all of the UCaaS providers should be observing. Great quality Wi-Fi is now mandatory for the workplace, and many small companies will likely choose a managed service to reduce the complexity of it.