Lost in the din of last week’s Apple iPhone launch was the announcement of an interesting service in the USA from T-Mobile called HotSpot @Home that combines the best of cellular phones and low cost Wi-Fi VoIP (technically, it’s GSM over IP).
T-Mobile has a fancy Web demo to explain the concept, but the basic idea is to use a technology called UMA to switch calls (mostly) seamlessly between Wi-Fi and cellular as you move in and out of range of Wi-Fi hot spots. The phones provided will work with unprotected and password-protected Wi-Fi hot spots, but not ones that require sign-in via a Web page, except for T-Mobile’s extensive network of 8,500 hot spots (e.g. Starbucks, Borders). A lot of work has been done make hotspot connection a no-brainer.
However, the big winner is that T-Mobile wants you to convert your home into a suitable hot spot by providing a free Wi-Fi router for your existing high speed Internet service. While the service will likely work with an existing Wi-Fi router you might have, the D-Link or Linksys routers offered have some useful features for VoIP calling including call priority. Since cell phone reception at home is often a problem and many calls are made there, HotSpot @Home offers better coverage at lower prices for many users.
How much lower? That depends on your calling patterns, but T-Mobile is offering unlimited Wi-Fi calling for a monthly surcharge of of $9.99 per month (single line) or $19.99 per month (family plan up to 5 lines) on top of a standard cellular service plan. If you do a lot of home calling or spend a lot of time near suitable hot spots, you will be able to reduce your cellular minutes and use the unlimited Wi-Fi instead. Moreover, T-Mobile’s hope is that you will be able to get rid of your regular home landline phone plan for further savings. That may be easier said than done if your home high speed Internet connection is DSL provided by your local phone company, but you might still be able to reduce the calling plan to a bare minimum.
Some various quibbles and observations:
All of this sounds very interesting, but I have to observe that while cellular reception at home is often problematical, Wi-Fi reception can be just as touchy as I can attest from the hours I have spent fooling with it where I live. On the cellular side, T-Mobile does not have the most extensive network in the USA, so you will also need to check the coverage if they aren’t your current cellular provider.
Net: The T-Mobile HotSpot @Home has some very attractive features and the potential for significant cost savings for users comfortable with Wi-Fi usage and the T-Mobile cellular network, but I wouldn’t blindly recommend it to a casual user with little experience with either.