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Review: T-Mobile [email protected] UMA/Wi-Fi Calling

T-Mobile-8520-smallReview: T-Mobile [email protected]
Cost: Free or unlimited for $10/month

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?

27 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. This is one of the best features Tmo offers.. I’ve used it many times in my travels. im not a monthly subscriber to Hotspot, but tmo gives you the option of only using it during the duration of your international trip, and only charge u a prorated portion of the montly plan. if u haven’t used it, i highly suggest u do.

  2. Oh VERIZON? Where ARE you on this??? With all smartphones requiring WiFi now, when are you gonna hook us up?

    From my BlackBerry Storm…

  3. I have also used my 8320 and then 8900 to make UMA calls while outside of the USA (Portugal, Canada), and obviously anytime I had wifi but a low tower signal. Yes one limitation is your phone “thinks” it is back in the USA, and you can’t call an international number as a local number when overseas, but if you have the Google Voice app that should make things easier (or equivalent service like Rebtel, etc…)

    One think I’ve done is I have 2 T-Mo routers. The older Linksys one and the newer Linksys one. I take the older one with me in my luggage so I can plug it in if I end up having a Ethernet cable but no wifi in a hotel.

  4. uma is great, mostly in theory. while it does work pretty good there are some major issues. the idiot in the next room that is downloading the internet will have you screaming for some edge or EDGE love – in short order. when the network is clogged your conversation is completely garbled. switching between edge and uma or vice versa is a lesson in frustration, and 90% of the time ends in a dropped call. it has its pluses though… i can’t get a signal from any carrier (just in my office, stupid crap!) but i have several wi-fi routers so i can always get uma. on my devices tho, at least from my experience, you can only have one of the wi-fi routers turned on when the phone first connects to wi-fi or the device gets confused and never connects… even if only one of the connections is enabled on the device. i was having to reboot multiple routers once each morning to get a connection – for the last week i’ve left them all off except one and the phone always seems to reconnect just fine. i have a better connection at home so uma is pretty enjoyable there at least.

    • I understand your circumstances/setup may be different, but I don’t reboot my home nor multiple access points at work, and can go from UMA to EDGE without any issues (but I do have a good EDGE signal in my office). You should make sure your wifi profile has “Allow inter-access point handover” enabled.

      I did have issues when I was not using one of the T-Mo routers, but the T-Mo routers have been great to prevent any dropped calls.

      • i always make sure inter-access point handover is on, it just doesn’t work for me most of the time.

        uma is undoubtedly a great idea. i just wish it worked better for me.

    • I think the experience differs based on the router. Using a cheap D-Link Di-524 I have no problems at all. It hands off to and from cellular with no drops, only a split-second cut out of audio. It is not designed to hand off from one wi-fi access point to another. I think if you got rid of the other routers you’d have better luck. It sounds like you have too much wi-fi going on there.

      My only complaint is interference while using A2DP (Stereo Bluetooth) on the same device. A2DP and UMA don’t get along well – too much fighting over finite 2.4 GHz radio bandwidth. Non-A2DP Bluetooth headsets work better.

  5. I’ve had this feature on my T-Mobile plan for a long time. It’s one of the reasons I stay with T-Mobile. I don’t know why they don’t promote it more. It is very reliable.

  6. This is very interesting. When I was looking into switching carriers, I spoke to a rep about the Hotspot @ Home feature and they told me that the way it worked was only that the Wi-Fi “assisted” the cellular cool and therefore, would not allow me to make free calls outside of the country (like Canada.) I ended up going with Verizon since they are the only provider which has any plan that would give you free roaming/long distance in Canada. But based on the above, it seems the information from the T-Mobile rep was incorrect. Good to know.

    • You talked to a dumb person then. Before I switched from Sprint to T-Mo in 2007 I asked a T-Mo rep. at a mall how it worked and he openly told me it worked over wifi from anywhere in the world. Everything he said turned out to be true.

  7. Do we get a new VoIP number if we subscribe to TMobile @ Home service? The reason i ask, is that I already have awesome # 1 VoIP service (You know which service I am talking about 🙂 ). So I don’t want to have my mobile #, then home VoIP # and now TMobile @ Home the 3rd number…

    any thoughts advise?


    • You don’t need a home line from T-Mobile if you don’t want one. I had two 8320s on a T-Mo router with no home line, but then decided to get a home line which is only $10/month for unlimited minutes. The home line has been flawless, but again you don’t need to get it if you don’t want it, so just keep your current VoIP service if you want.

  8. UMA is good.

    i use both t-mo’s services.

    [email protected] home and plain old t-mo @home.

    can’t wait for t-mo to come out with a UMA android.

  9. Did anyone of you changed to the new Even More or Even More Plus Plans from T-Mobile? I am just confused which one to take. I would prefer the Even More Plan, as I can get discounts on new phones which arrive and just have to be with them for a 2 year contract, which is fine. Whereas the Even More Plus plan though is cheap and awesome, there are caveats, like you cannot get phone discounts and in an event if you want to change to a contract basis plan in future, you may not be able to do so and you may also lose your current phone number with them! Basically they might not let you have the number which you currently have ( I have it since 10 years with TMobile, what a loyal customer I am :))

    So you see my point…

    • Yes I just switched to it, I have 4 lines plus a home line with them, I didn’t have to extend my contract but I do get charge if I was to switch to the no contract plan. all 4 cell phone lines have Unlimited internet for lik $45 a month they bundle it for me, and all my lines share minutes and messaging. Have not received my first bill, but what I was told is when either one of my lines becomes available for an upgrade I get the discount, the other one with no contract you do have to paid the full price for the phones but you can have it set to be paid in monthly premiums

  10. I’ve heard the T-Mobile is discontinuing this add on for individuals and only allowing it for businesses. In fact on the My T-mobile website I can no longer find a way to add it anymore.

  11. T-Mobile’s UMA is a really great service, but it looks like T-mo has dropped the ball. They no longer advertise it on their web pages. They no longer include it in a searchable option for their phones. And, worse yet, the number of phones that support UMA has dwindled. Yes, most Blackberries support it, and that’s great for me, but they used to have quite a few low end phones, and now it is only a couple. If T-mo drops UMA, then I drop T-mo. As the ad says, “There’s a *map* for that.”

  12. So you guys that have this:
    If I am in a locatuon that has no TMO cellular service, if my UMA was turned on and somebody calls my cell number, my phone rings just as if I DID have cell service? But ONLY “my” hotspot, right? I can’t be at your house and my phone could ring through your wifi, or would it when in range of ANY approved TMO UMA hotspot?

    • Yes, your phone will connect (provided you have added the WiFi router and connected to it) and have service through the WiFi. It doesn’t matter whose router it is, your phone connects through it. Tmo does offer a home line VOIP service that is tied to a router (you even put a sim card in it).

      I have traveled all over the world and UMA has worked great for me. I am very torn right now though because Tmo is pretty bad where I have moved to and even though UMA would be helpful while traveling still, I think solid service is going to have to win.

  13. I love UMA! I’ve been using it ever since I got the Curve 1 nearly a couple years ago. (Has it been that long?) It is definitely one of the under-appreciated features from T-Mobile. While other carriers are fiddling around with their expensive femtocell options, UMA is far superior, mainly because wi-fi is everywhere!

    Props to the writers of this article for getting the details right. It’s been frustrating how misunderstood this service is, namely that it’s free if you want to use your minutes, but enjoy improved coverage. The only cost is for the unlimited UMA minutes options.

    I really appreciated this service while traveling, back when I didn’t have a plan that included roaming. I just turned the wi-fi radio on and leave the cellular radio off. It’s even useful for SMS and data when you’re out of cellular coverage and bandwidth of the hotspot you’re connected to isn’t able to carry a voice call because it’s too low. Now that I’m on the unlimited nationwide plan I still appreciate the improved coverage through UMA. Basements of the world are now covered!

  14. I’ve been using UMA on my BlackBerry Curve for a while now but I don’t remember having to pay extra for it. It’s great for traveling because I can make free calls to the USA (and Canada with Google Voice).

  15. I’ve been using UMA on T-Mo with 1st a Samsung Katalyst and now a Samsung T339, both suffering from many dropped calls and 1-way audio. I understand the BB works much better, but I still have time on my contract before I can get promo upgrade pricing on the BB. T-MO has dropped promotion of @home and also the add-on pricing to their old voice plans. You can still add it if you know about it.
    I think they realized that for $10/mo bundled with unlimited mobile to mobile and unlimited UMA calls, they were losing money. I know that the 2500 min a month used on UMA would cost me a lot more then I’m paying now ($80/mo for 2 phones including the $10/mo UMA service). Also, their losing the contract with Starbuck’s to provide WiFi killed their big @hotspot promo. They are still promoting it big time to corporate accounts though. From a pricing perspective, I think they are thinking why bother with UMA phones, but they forget about their coverage problems at home.
    Another solution is to get their @home router and add a line at home for $10/mo and manage it all with Google Voice, but then there are plenty of VoIp options out there that are cheaper still.

  16. mike b

    what kind of router are you using?

    with the dlink router i experienced the same problems you are.

    i upgraded to the linksys when i added an @home line and the problems stopped dead.

    i use a katalyst and my wife uses a 339.

    i would kill for an android app to make my g-1 UMA as blackberrys are useless outside my door for about 6 miles or so but, my g-1 has a signal about a mile away.

    t-mo has rocks in their heads for phasing UMA to the back burner.

    when my obligation is up i’m going to verizon with their femtocell network extender.

  17. I like this evolution. I think it is about time that the cell companies are investing in better technology and let us get rid of land lines totally. Why should we bother when the future is wireless anyway? – Ray J.-Mobilhuset:Mobil uten Abonnement

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