Time to get rid of that landline, and say hello to Cellular-WiFi convergence. The much-talked-about dual mode T-Mobile USA wireless service, called HotSpot@Home, that uses both the cellular and WiFi networks for seamless phone calling is now available at a T-Mobile store near you. The service, is an attempt by the smallest of the big four US wireless carriers to overcome its lack of fixed line infrastructure. This is the second US telecom to launch a UMA service. Cincinnati Bell launched its UMA-based service called “Home Run” last week.
T-Mobile has launched the service with two basic handsets – the Samsung T409 and the Nokia 6086 – for $50 a pop if you sign-up for a two-year contract. If you get one of these two phones, you can add an unlimited nationwide calling (over WiFi) option for $10 a month. The wireless company is also offering especially configured routers with the phone, though your existing WiFi routers should suffice. It also works with 8,500 T-Mobile Hot Spots in the US including Starbucks locations, and doesn’t require extra payments.
While many of you might be wondering what’s the big deal: you can actually do that with a VoIP plan from one of the mobile start-ups like Truphone over a WiFi enabled handset. T-Mobile describes its technology as GSM-over-IP, and uses the UMA technology. (See 5 Things To Know about UMA) The phone companies have promised this type of convergence for a long time, but this is the first time such technology is being offered for mass consumption.
We have been using this service for last week or so, and it works as advertised. You turn on the phone, and it automatically scans for networks, and allows you to connect to your home network, and can handle all types of security options.
We did have trouble with Apple Airport network that had WPA2 protection turned on, but when we switched to our new ADSL2plus connection from Covad and a generic (T-mobile provided) WiFi router, things went smoothly. When we took the phone to our office, it found our work WiFi network, connected and stored that information. It is hard to tell which network the call is being routed over, and if there was any quality difference, we couldn’t tell.
The service isn’t exactly cheap – but it does offer convenience of one single number. It also allows you to get the most out of your minute plan. Given that nearly 27% of mobile wireless minutes are used from home, it is not such a bad option.
It also is a good way to over come weak signals in your home. Web workers who spend a lot of time in Starbucks can also cut their wireless minute usage quite a bit, without even paying for the Starbucks Wi-Fi access plan.
The big beneficiaries of this service will be International travelers. You can carry the phone with you, say to Rome. The phone will connect to a WiFi network, and allow you to call home as if you were calling locally. The bad news is that if you have to call someone in Rome, then it becomes an international call.
Hey, you can’t win them all.