T-Mobile Sets Dual-Mode Debut in Motion

By James Alan Miller

August 22, 2006

At home UMA service, now in trials, seamlessly hands off cellular calls to voice over Wi-Fi with a phone that supports both.

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Rumors are rampant that T-Mobile will launch a service in Seattle as soon as September 12 using Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), which would allow hand-off of cellular GSM calls to voice over Wi-Fi with a phone that supports both. UMA is one of several competing dual-mode-style fixed-mobile convergence standards.

With thousands of hotspots, T-Mobile users could theoretically walk off the street while on the phone, enter Starbucks, trip over to the Wi-Fi network while still talking (freeing up cell tower space for other calls while T-Mobile still gets money for the minutes used). The focus at first is likely to be home users, who can use their phone for cell calls or to make VoWi-Fi calls over their own home network, without needing a separate service like Skype which would entail getting a separate phone number.

The rate for the rumored dual-mode service --called T-Mobile-At-Home -- currently in trials is supposedly a flat fee of $5, far less than the $30 or more per month you would pay for a landline. By penetrating the home market, T-Mobile could get its subscriber rates, which dropped to 613,000 last quarter from 972,00 the same period a year earlier, moving up again as well.

While, as we said, T-Mob’s UMA trials today seem to focus on the home, it makes sense - and this would appear to be the carrier's ultimate goal - for the carrier to leverage its extensive hotspot portfolio outside customers houses soon afterward.

Because T-Mobile is far behind operator competitors like Cingular, Verizon, and Sprint in the delivery of third-generation cellular data services to the U.S market, the carrier has a chance to leverage its heavy hotspot investments to encourage mobile subscribers to use its content services (e.g. the Web, e-mail, MMS, music, video, etc.).

And with voice revenue slowly declining, operators are looking toward content to make up the difference. Many carriers have already found they earn higher ARPU (average revenue per user) from customers with smartphones and advanced feature phones that offer these types of services, let alone on 3G networks that support them best for mobile operators today.

To put it bluntly, dual-mode technologies like UMA are seen by operators as another way to get folks to ride the content services bandwagon.

The likely phone candidate for the T-Mobile UMA deployment is the Samsung SGH-T709, which - in addition to integrating Wi-Fi - is a tri-band (850/1800/1900) GSM/GPRS/EDGE handset that includes a 1.3 megapixel camera, speech recognition, video recorder, MP3 player, speakerphone, and a slider design. There's no expansion slot, however.

It measures 3.7 x 1.7 x 0.9 inches, weighs 3.3 ounces, and has about 69 MB of usable memory.

The two routers in the T-Mobile UMA trial include a Linksys and a D-Link model. Just about the only difference between these and your everyday 802.11b/g router is the addition of button to ease the connection of a Wi-Fi enabled phone, the T709 in this case, in the home without inputting a WEP or WPA security key, according to the gizmo blog Engadget.

Overall, there are reportedly 20 UMA trials going on worldwide right now. Nokia started conducting one in the Finnish city of Oulu near the polar circle last month by giving fifty families its own 6136 Wi-Fi enabled handset. Oulu has over 300 hotspots.

T-Mobile's trial is the only one we know of that's appears to use a service and product that are supposedly close to launch.

Image from Engadget

In addition to Seattle, Chicago and the San Francisco are possible early candidates for T-Mobile's upcoming UMA service.

Story courtesy of PDAStreet.com.



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