T-Mobile Wi-Fi/Cell Phones Go Nationwide
June 27, 2007
The Hotspot @Home service allows hand-off from cell towers to any open Wi-Fi connection without losing the call.
Amid all the iPhone hype this week, T-Mobile USA (part of Deutsche Telekom
) has something to say as well: mobile phones dont have to break the bank, when you can make calls over both cell towers and Wi-Fi routers -- and, delivering on a promise made years ago, those calls wont be dropped as you switch between networks. Homes with poor cell coverage can still make calls if Wi-Fi access is made available.
Thats the gist of the companys Hotspot @Home service, which is going nationwide today after several months of trials in the Seattle area. With this service and a dual-mode phone supporting both T-Mobiles GSM/GPRS/EDGE network and Wi-Fi, users can make unlimited calls by adding $10 a month, or $20 a month for up to five lines on a family plan, to an existing T-Mobile phone account. The "unlimited" part only includes the VoIP calls made via Wi-Fi, of course except if the call started on the Wi-Fi side. If the call then roams to the cell network, it remains unmetered.
Investor research firm ThinkEquity calls this fixed/mobile convergence (F/MC) launch by T-Mobile the most important architectural shift in cell phone technology since the introduction of digital GSM in 1992.
Users are not limited to Wi-Fi calls on their home networks. The phones will work with any open Wi-Fi connection, as well as the T-Mobile HotSpot network of 8,500 locations in the U.S. Calls made at these locations wont cost anything. T-Mobile will also be selling home wireless routers from Linksys and D-Link that it says are optimized for the service by supporting the WMM standard, part of 802.11e with a proprietary method for setting up a secure link. The routers will be free after a mail-in rebate. T-Mobile apparently wont guarantee call quality with other routers, nor at non-T-Mobile hotspots. T-Mobile hotspots all have full T-1 lines for backhaul to the Internet, while typical public hotspots with open access are likely only to have DSL or cable connections in the background.
The Hotspot @Home network is powered by Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) technology, which enables seamless hand-off from Wi-Fi to cellular and back. The same tech powers networks overseas run by BT in the UK and Orange in France.
The iPhone, while carrying Wi-Fi, will not support this kind of hand-off, as its exclusive carrier, AT&T, doesnt use it. Wi-Fi on the iPhone will likely be used for data only, unless Apple introduces a VoIP application in the future which is unlikely, since AT&T wont want iPhone users to avoid using its voice network. Glenn Fleishman of Wi-Fi Networking News notes that T-Mobile is focused entirely on voice here; Apple, on a broad 'digital life' experience that includes voice, Internet access, and media, with no network integration among the three.
The Hotspot @Home service and the Nokia and Samsung handsets can be purchased at T-Mobile retail stories or online.