It is no secret that many people are stopping to use land lines and moving solely to cellphones. But cellphone plans are usually tied up with minute limitations. Many have filled the gap using VoIP services for cheap phone calls over the internet. But VoIP service is another bill and another phone number. That is where T-Mobile’s [email protected] comes in. You have your one phone number and one bill, with the benefit of both cellphone and VoIP service through UMA technology.
I was recently traveling Europe and was carrying around one of T-Mobile’s BlackBerrys powered by [email protected] I wanted to test out if I could make Wi-Fi calls while in France and it worked like a charm. I did run into an issue when trying to call a international number while there but I think that was because I had international calling restricted. Ronen also took one of the BlackBerry 8520’s to Switzerland on his vacation and was having a blast making free phone calls over Wi-Fi while traveling internationally.
With a majority of today’s phones having Wi-Fi capabilities, it was only a matter of time before the service providers figured out a way to mix both in an attractive package for users, and a profitable way for carriers. After setting the default settings to “Wi-Fi preferred” calls, T-Mobile’s [email protected] works like a charm. You start with a regular cellphone service package, so that when you aren’t on Wi-Fi your cellphone works as normal and uses your regular minutes. Then you add on a $10 (for the individual) Hotspot at Home service, so that when you get on your home Wi-Fi the phone automatically switches to Wi-Fi VoIP calls which don’t use any of your minutes.
If you are a T-Mobile user already, this is a great idea. T-Mobile isn’t known for having the best reception, so besides for convenience and cost, this may be a way to make up for some spotty T-Mobile service. But even if you aren’t a T-Mobile customer, the idea may be a nice start for other carriers. It’s no secret that AT&T stinks. I get dropped calls every day. You would think that for all the money we all spend for cellphone service we would get crystal clear service with reliable quality. But if the cell phone providers can’t provide reliable clear service all the time, the least they can do is make up for it with a reliable VoIP service. In fact, that might be some of the reason for AT&T’s new Microcell 3g service, which let’s iPhone users make unlimited calls over the 3g internet connection if they live in an area with spotty service for an extra $20. The problem is that the Microcell along with Verizon and Sprint’s version of their femtocell have built in GPS receivers so that you cannot use them internationally.
But cell phone providers have another incentive for providing such services–getting in front of their biggest competition by embracing it. With Wi-Fi popping up in more and more places, users with Wi-Fi enabled phones are having more and more options between internet providers. It is only a matter of time before users found a way to use their phones with other VoIP services of Wi-Fi. In fact, some have already done so. But with Hotspot at Home, T-Mobile has given users a seamless experience that is built into their existing system. But better yet, they go beyond tradition VoIP services because they allow users to use a single number–saving the inevitable confusion of friends and family. While the number confusion can be solved with a simple free Google Voice number, having everything provided and set up by a single provider makes everything just a few steps easier.
As a concept, I say this is a big step forward for cellphone service providers. With voice service becoming quickly outdated, and data services being slow and spotty (compared to Wi-Fi), these companies are facing extinction if they stay the old course. But “Hotspot at Home” may be a sign that these companies are able to transform and adapt, giving them a chance to live and bill us well into the future.
So what do you think? Have you found any cool uses for T-Mobile’s UMA service?