T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi cellular converged phone service is supposedly breaking out of its Seattle trial and going nationwide this summer, according to the Wall Street Journal. The article says that some time in mid-June T-Mobile is going to do a national launch of its ‘Hotspot at Home’ service along with the dual mode phones that are based on a standard called Unlicensed Mobile Access, popularly known by its acronym, UMA.
When we wrote about T-Mobile’s Seattle trial last August, it wasn’t clear then if T-Mobile had already provisioned the service to be used outside of the home, at public hotpots in Seattle. Though, this morning’s article says the national service can be used at coffee shops.
It’s a natural move and the public hotpots are T-Mobile’s trump card. More than any other carrier, T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi real estate gives the fourth largest carrier the incentive to use UMA and Wi-Fi cellular convergence.
The service is by no means a sure bet of commercial success. T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom actually cancelled its fixed/mobile convergence service called T-One in Germany. That service was based on a protocol called SIP over Wi-Fi and cellular. Light Reading says the service was thought to be “too expensive, poorly marketed, and lacked compelling features.”
UMA is also a controversial topic in some telecom circles. ‘UMA is dead,’ is a common sentiment from startups and our readers have fiercely debated the technology’s technical merits. The WSJ article says:
T-Mobile has had some technological problems with the project, such as making a smooth handoff between the cellphone and Wi-Fi networks and maintaining battery life, people familiar with the trials say. Many of those issues have been ironed out in the latest versions of the Wi-Fi phones, those people say.
UMA is basically an international standard that has been in development for years by a consortium of carriers and companies. The technology works with both Wi-Fi and bluetooth and uses dual-mode phones to roam between Wi-Fi and cellular networks.
Deployment of wide-reaching UMA services require UMA infrastructure in the network that companies like Alcatel, Nokia, Kineto Wireless, Motorola and Ericsson provide, as well as UMA software on dual-mode handsets developed by Motorola, Nokia, and Kineto.
As voice becomes even more of a commodity service and use of data services grows, the carriers all know that they need to adopt converged network services and offer easier ways to roam across networks. Most carriers are terrified of losing some of the revenues from cellular voice calls to cheaper Wi-Fi voice calls.
But as Wi-Fi and other wireless networks grow, there is really no way around it, and UMA offers some level of control. Because T-Mobile has been working on Wi-Fi hotspots for years, it has a head start in this market in the U.S.