Siemens HOOME review

£1175
Price when reviewed

Siemens HiPath OpenOffice ME (HOOME) is a telephone exchange in a box. Suitable for 20 to 250 users, it will connect to analogue POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) or digital ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) lines and to IP or SIP phones on the users’ desks. It also provides presence and messaging functions and will integrate with Microsoft Outlook to dial contact numbers and deliver voice mail messages.

The HOOME hardware can be rack-mounted or free standing and consists of a motherboard and space for up to three gateway modules. Each gateway module can handle a number of incoming lines of a specific type, such as four analogue lines, four ISDN-2 (Basic Rate) lines or one ISDN-30 (Primary Rate) line.

Each appliance can handle up to 50 extensions and you can link up to three appliances together to serve a maximum of 150 people. It can also be configured to route some or all calls via an external VoIP provider.

Setting up via the web-based administration interface is difficult, with a complex maze of screens to configure all aspects of the service through a series of wizards. While it tries to be helpful, the setup is chock-full of telephony jargon, which is often abbreviated and not explained either on the page itself or in the documentation.

Once it is up and running, end users can make and receive calls via a hardware or software phone and, depending on the features of that phone, can also see they have voicemail messages, pick up their voicemail, and even send short text messages.

Users can also access the advanced features of the HOOME system using either a Java application or an Outlook add-in. With the Outlook add-in you can type a phone number directly into a box on the toolbar and have your phone dial that number. Alternatively, you can select any Outlook contact and dial one of their numbers.

From other applications, you can hold the Control key and the right mouse button and drag the mouse pointer over a person’s name or number to dial that number or lookup a number for that name. Incoming calls produce a system tray notification with details of the call and open the matching Outlook contact if there is one.

Setting their “presence” status allows a user to determine what happens to calls. “Away on holiday” might redirect to a colleague, while “In a meeting” goes to voicemail and “Out of office” redirects to a mobile. If you give permission, your Outlook calendar will be scanned to set your presence according to keywords in the subject of the appointments for each day.

The presence information is useful but only visible in a few places such as the internal directory list and on the list of favourites, which pops out from the left edge of the screen. You can drag internal and external contacts from the directories and Outlook to this list of favourites and dial directly from it, but because it pops out whenever your mouse pointer gets within 20 pixels of the edge it often annoys more than it helps. Simply going to click the Start button can send the favourites list into a migraine-inducing flicker.

HOOME keeps lists of each person’s voicemail messages and a journal of the phone calls in, out and missed. There are fax features too: it can be configured to route incoming faxes either to an analogue fax machine or as messages to one or more recipients. Outgoing faxes can be sent by printing the message to the relevant fax printer driver.

It’s easy to set up conference calls with multiple internal and external lines using the Java application or the Outlook Add-In. Scheduled conferences get added to your Outlook calendar, and the HOOME appliance can be set to call all participants at the appropriate time.

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