T-Mobile UMA Goes National

Posted by Sam Churchill on

T-Mobile today announced nationwide availability of its HotSpot@Home service. It uses special Wi-Fi equipped handsets to transfer voice calls to designated HotSpots when they are in range (at home). The service costs an extra $19.99 per month.

When calls are made over a WiFi network instead of a cellular network, they do not count against the subscriber’s monthly minutes, but there is a monthly flat fee. Two compatible phones, the Nokia 6086 and Samsung T409, are available for $50 with a two year contract.

It makes your home Wi-Fi network into a T-Mobile cell site. Phonescoop has a complete review, as does Mobile Burn and PC Magazine.

T-Mobile is launching the service at a promotional rate of $10 per month for individuals and $20 for family plans. The rates will increase another $10 per month after the promotion has ended. A $50 access point will be free after rebate. The service was initially launched in Seattle.

Why not use Skype or Truphone on a smartphone or on a Nokia N800 Webtablet? You could, but T-Mobile uses the Unlicenced Mobile Access (UMA) standard to tie the two networks together.

UMA links your VoIP phone software with the cellular network, signaling T-Mobile when you’ve moved from cellular to WiFi. That allows calls to be routed automatically between the cell network and your current hotspot.

UMA needs special hardware on the phone side —- you can’t just use any Wi-Fi-enabled phone. But T-Mobile’s UMA-enabled phones should work on most any WiFi network — not just your own or T-Mobile’s. Other UMA handsets are becoming available (but not yet guaranteed to work with T-Mobile). Katie Fehrenbacher has 5 Things to Know About UMA.

The chief advantage is reducing cellular minutes and solving indoor “cellular” reception problems. Of course WiFi phones have their own problems; they use more juice and indoor coverage is limited.

T-Mobile’s 802.11g routers are tweaked versions of Linksys WRT54G and D-Link DI-524, modified to improve their range when in voice calling mode and to help Wi-Fi phones maximize their battery life, explains PC Magazine. T-Mobile uses the Nokia 6086 and Samsung t409, both basic flip phones, that cost $50 with a two-year contract.

Joe Sims, T-Mobile’s vice president of new business, told The Washington Post that poor coverage in the house is the number one reason customers leave the carrier. And one-third of all calls on the network originate in the house.

According to the Seattle Times, 13.2 percent of the 1.29 million Seattle households have opted to drop their landlines. Detroit, at 19 percent, was the No. 1 city for dropping landlines.

In another survey, research firm In-Stat found that nearly 20 percent of people who use wireless phones planned to drop landline phone service, especially among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Handsets that offer only Wi-Fi connectivity have been a failure, according to the U.K. director of home and office communications devices for Siemens. Most dedicated Wi-Fi phones can’t use the cellular network at all, so their utility is limited.

Taking another tack, Netgear is working with femtocell maker Ubiquisys on a 3G femtocell access point for the home. It will extend and repeat a cellular carrier’s signal into the home and support UMTS and HSPA (as well as Wi-Fi), so you can more easily use your plain vanilla cellphone inside the house.

It will be available for operator testing by Q4 2007, with commercial availability slated for early 2008.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Wednesday, June 27th, 2007 at 7:04 am .

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