Ooma hedges again on HD voice: launch in “next few months” – but that’s not the real story

According to a piece published yesterday in Enterprise VoIP Planet, Ooma (www.ooma.com) plans to launch an HD voice service “within the next few months.”  

Hello, hello? This is what the company’s been saying over the past year. And oh-by-the-way, it looks like the company has finished reshuffling its executive suite with a new VP of Marketing. 

Enterprise VoIP Planet interviewed VP of Product Marketing Dennis Peng, who made the statement about HD voice coming “within the next few months” after going through the laundry list of everything recently added to the ooma product line other than HD voice – an iPhone app, a Bluetooth app, and an international calling bundle.  Which two of these things are like Vonage, and which one isn’t?

The ooma HD voice and subscribers saga

Ooma has been promising/touting HD voice quality for its second-generation Telo hardware since last year, with then-CMO Rich Buchanan making the rounds at HD voice events and citing Telo as having support for both G.722 HD voice and CAT-iq.  But ooma supposedly had issues shipping enough Telo for the 2009 holiday season, and was unable to send review hardware to media.

By January 2010, ooma said it had shipped around 100,000 units – the same number that Peng cited in his interview with Enterprise VoIP Planet on August 9, 2010 – with around 25,000 of those being the new Telo hardware in 4Q 2009.  HD voice capability was “coming” and slated for April.

In an Ooma company post on February 1, 2010, the CEO cites numbers “approaching 100,000 subscribers” and talks about when calling Ooma to Ooma with Ooma HD Voice, the voice quality is truly remarkable.” 

April came and Ooma released “True Voice” but no HD voice.  By then, CMO Rich Buchanan was gone, gone, gone and then-VP of Corporate Marketing Tami Bhaumik said that they wanted to get HD voice right and it would appear over the summer.   Now Bhaumik is gone, replaced by a straight-up VP of Marketing.

Regardless, either Ooma is stuck at around 100,000 subscribers, it has a slow growth rate, or there’s some strangeness going on in how it counts people.

The ooma executive staffing saga

Ooma’s website now lists Jim Gustke as Vice President of Marketing.  Using a little Kremlinology (kids, look it up if it doesn’t ring a bell) on the company’s press releases, it appears Tami Bhaumik departed/was kicked to the curb in July to bring in Gustke, who is cited as being VP of Marketing for Intuit and “helped read the reinvention of Quicken” and served a stint over at Lexar Media.

Gustke likely worked with CEO Eric Stang over at flash memory shop Lexar; Stang was at Lexar for 7 years and took the company through an IPO before it got snapped up by Micron.

Of course, there is the continuing mystery of how then-CMO Rich Buchanan abruptly announced his departure from ooma via Twitter on the same evening as the Super Bowl (February 7, 2010). 

The ooma PR saga

HD Voice News has been following Ooma’s path since, well, before the creation of HD Voice News. Ooma was an financial supporter of the website in the winter of 2009 and Buchanan had promised to provide Telo demo/sample hardware when it was available.

However, the hardware didn’t come. Buchanan said the company had so much demand from its channels for the holiday season that it was delaying shipment of hardware for review.

At CES 2010, Ooma announced a whole bunch of features that were in the pipeline, including support for HD voice and its PureVoice technology.

In April 2010, ooma officially rolled its PureVoice technology.  HD voice was not on the list. Further, HD Voice News was told that it was “on the list” for review hardware and should see a unit in May. Again, the reason citied for the delay was channel demand for hardware.

A discussion ensued between ooma, its PR company, and HD Voice News both on the delay in shipping review hardware and support for HD voice.

Since then, HD Voice News has not been on the briefing list or received press releases from Ooma’s PR company.  And HD Voice News has complained about this on more then one occasion.

Now what?

It would appear ooma has finished shuffling the executive suite (again).  This would make the second executive refresh in about 3 years; the first one coming in 2008 when Buchanan and others were brought into the company, followed by CEO Eric Strang in January 2009.

One might argue that ooma has simply gone through a “I want my own team” phase, with CEO Strang bringing on his own people.  However, the apparent/alleged bottlenecks in Telo 2.0 hardware, a “lock” around reporting 100,000 subscribers and delays in supporting HD voice would tend to indicate other issues at play.

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