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T-Mobile snuck in a price drop that current subscribers need to ask for: As of Feb. 6, the company’s HotSpot@Home plan, now called HotSpot@Home Talk Forever, is $9.99 per month regardless of the number of lines on your account. The service allows more or less unlimited calls placed or received over Wi-Fi (even if you roam onto cell during the call).
If you’re a current subscriber paying $19.99 per month or more with extra lines, you need to call T-Mobile to request the price change, which seems a bit chintzy.
Silicon.com reports that UK-based BT’s much ballyhooed Fusion converged cell/Wi-Fi service has 45,000 residential customers, marketing plans dropped: It may have something to do with the handsets, Silicon.com reports. The business side has gone better, with 100,000 business users, to whom the service is still being pitched. But the combined numbers are pretty small for the nearly year in the marketplace. This may bode poorly for T-Mobile’s HotSpot@Home converged service for which subscriber numbers haven’t been disclosed. BT is in the reverse position of T-Mobile, selling DSL and landlines, but having no cell phone business. Both firms have extensive hotspot networks.
Boingo, Broadcom partner to include Boingo software in Wi-Fi VoIP phones: Boingo received another shot of confidence in its method of aggregating access to tens of thousands of hotspots worldwide for a flat fee with Broadcom incorporating the Boingo software toolkit in its Wi-Fi phone chipset platform. Reducing coding effort vastly increases the likelihood that a manufacturer would partner with Boingo to provide access for its subscribers, or that a reseller or service provider would wind up working with Boingo because the phone already had the capability to tap into the Boingo network.
T-Mobile now offers the Katalyst from Samsung for its HotSpot@Home service: The converged Wi-Fi/cell calling plan now has four phones, including two simpler models, a BlackBerry, and this $80 offering (mail-in rebate, two-year commitment).
PC World likes the BlackBerry 8320 paired with T-Mobile’s converged UMA calling service: They found some drops when roaming from Wi-Fi to GSM (something I found way back in early testing a year ago), but were generally happy with the combination of cost and services.
Cubic Telecom has a pretty killer SIM, but also Wi-Fi: David Pogue writes up the nearly-shipping Cubic Telecom phone for today’s New York Times. The Cubic phone is ehh; it’s a basic Pirelli model. What’s killer about it is that they’ve wired it to accept up to 50 numbers, and it can authenticate to GSM calling systems around the world with which Cubic has negotiated very low local per-minute rates. Rates are 15 cents per minute from line to line within the U.S., and rates 50 to 90 percent off roaming charges elsewhere, like 49 cents instead of $4.90 per minute from Russia to the U.S.
A Wi-Fi radio is also built in, and a $42 per month plan offers unlimited inbound calls over Wi-Fi, with outbound calls for a penny a minute. (There must be additional limits, like landline to cell calling, which is typically ruinously expensive even intra-country; I checked with the firm, and this is the case.) The monthly charge seems a little high, but I’m not aware of any other phone that offers Internet telephony, a roaming handset, and GSM built in. T-Mobile’s HotSpot@Home can work over Wi-Fi when you’re out of the country, but it’s not optimized for that, and I’ve heard about mixed experiences. T-Mobile also offers the typically high rates for international calling, even when using Wi-Fi to place the outbound call.
The phone works as a mobile callback system, placing the call through their network and then calling you back. There’s a delay while calls are connected, Pogue writes, and the quality is similar to that of pure VoIP calls. If you purchase local numbers in cities around the world, people in those cities can call you at no cost, ostensibly. Although I’d like so more details on that: mobile and landline calling is rarely a straightforward billing proposition outside the U.S.
Cubic will sell you the SIM independent of the phone, too. The phone will run $140; the SIM by itself $40. There are no monthly charges.
Update: Pogue found that the calling prices he was quoted were incorrect. There’s a long thread about how the company has dealt with pricing, how they were apparently giving Pogue prices in US cents that were in euro cents, and so on.
T-Mobile will offers the BlackBerry Curve 8320 for HotSpot@Home converged cell/Wi-Fi calling: The new phone is part of Research in Motion’s wave of more media-savvy smartphones, including a two-mexapixel camera and music and video playback. This is the first advanced phone available for HotSpot@Home making it more appealing to a broader audience.
The 6301 will cost €230 ($322) and ship in fourth quarter: The phone, targeted for Europe, is the first model released since major UMA networks were unveiled in the UK, Italy, and the U.S., among other localities. Nokia made one of the first UMA phones, and I found it find, but rather limited. The 6301 seems to be about the same. The BlackBerry 8820 with Wi-Fi introduced by AT&T this week as an exclusive includes UMA among its extensive set of features—except that AT&T isn’t using UMA, so it’s wasted on the U.S. market.
The first commercial rollout of an in-home cell-to-broadband gateway comes from Sprint: Sprint sold its landline business, and thus they have more motivation to get cell callers to move their dollars from wire to wireless. Reports are that they’re offering a limited rollout of a Samsung femtocell, a tiny cell base station that uses licensed frequencies, with a connection to a consumer’s broadband Internet service. The markets covered are Denver and Indianapolis.
Femtocells differ from unlicensed mobile access (UMA), in that UMA uses, well, unlicensed 2.4 GHz bandwidth; femtocells using licensed frequencies can push out higher-powered signals and have no competition for the bandwidth. Further, femtocells can work with any existing handset; UMA requires new handsets that combine cell (GSM only at this point) and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. That’s not as big a deal as it used to be, with nearly 100 handsets in production or in the market that match Wi-Fi with cell.
The service costs $50 for the device and $15 per month for unlimited local and U.S. calling. It’s called an Airave, and won’t hit nationally until 2008. Femtocells have to account for the part of the country in which they operate as each carrier owns a specific set of spectrum licenses in each geographic area. Any Sprint handset can work with the femtocell.
The cost of femtocells is estimated to be in the hundreds of dollars, making the subsidized $50 price seem rather low. But Alan Nogee of In-State is quoted with an excellent observation in this PC World article: he notes that because most home calling falls into the free weekend/evening minute category anyway, cell carriers aren’t making additional revenue. He didn’t note, too, that if you have a large minute plan, the carriers would prefer you use fewer minutes until you run over when they’d rather you pay lots of overages.
Thus, any minute pulled from a pool that’s then not used or any minute that would have been carried for free as part of a weekend/evening plan that is now part of an additional $15/month in revenue is a savings in cell carriage and an increase in revenue from the monthly fee. I like it. It also keeps people loyal to Sprint.
With UMA, depending on the network, customers can get no-minutes-used calling at hotspots, which isn’t an option with femtocells.
I’ve been dubious about femtocells because their availability is always next year or the year after, no matter how many years back you talk about them. The cost remains high, and it’s got a fixed-location utility. T-Mobile can use UMA to give people free calls at 8,500 locations in the U.S. in addition to home. Sprint can give people…better reception at home. So we’ll see if the quality issue combined with a Vonage-like pricing plan is enough to get people to give up landlines. Since people still need broadband, which is often coupled or bundled with landline or voice service, there’s a question there about whether femtocells are thus compelling enough, too, to replace that.
Google puts money into Ubiquisys: The search giant was part of a $25m round of financing. Femtocells use licensed frequencies to act as tiny cell base stations in homes and offices, with voice and data backhauled over a customer’s own broadband connection. The investment is interesting in light of Google’s intent to bid in the 700 MHz advanced wireless auction in the U.S., for which rules are still be nailed down.
The Economist offers this account of trying to find a smart phone, purchased in the U.S., that could work worldwide without mortgaging the farm: The correspondent, in the end, says that an Linux-based OpenMoko-standard phone due out in October called Neo 1973 ($450 with advanced features) is the closest to meeting the bill. It’s quad-band GSM, unlocked, with Wi-Fi and GPRS, GPS, and a Smart Digital slot; 3G comes next year. There’s no lock on what applications the phone can run. All other phones either have too many limits (such as EVDO 3G that won’t work worldwide) or charge insane roaming fees and data fees with no option to drop in a locally rented SIM card.
Skype software for the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled tablet is out: The $400 N800 lacks any cellular connection. Unlike the iPhone, it can run the just-released Skype software for it, and play Adobe Flash content, such as YouTube and other streaming services that rely on a Flash movie playback subsystem. Skype also works on Windows Mobile.
Peter Judge reports at Techworld that femtocells, cell base stations for the home, are still far from deployment, but moving along: Femtocells have been two-years-away technology for some time. Rather, the technology is well understood: a cellular carrier can give its customers broadband-backhauled base stations that use licensed frequencies the carrier controls. The broadband may be unpredictable—just like with VoIP—but there’s no issue with interference as there is with UMA (unlicensed mobile access) when Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or other devices are contending for spectrum.
But Judge notes that while vendors have femtocells on offer, carriers don’t have them in live trials yet. At a femtocell conference, he reports on a lot of talk about standards and operator-oriented control tools. There are a lot of issues to be settled, such as will a femtocell allow any user nearby or just the one paying for the broadband? Does their use break ISP agreements on services carried, part of the net neutrality debate?
ABI Research predicted 35m femtocells in use by 2011, but others are dubious, including myself. UMA is a “best-availbility” technology that might wind up being good enough—and which could cost carriers a lot less to rll out to users. Femtocells costs are still quite high compared to comparable Wi-Fi networking equipment, even though femtocells will have lots of advantages for voice users.
David Pogue is unabashedly positive about the converged calling plan offered by T-Mobile: The service was announced a week ago, and an all-iPhone, all-the-time period, it was hard for them to get coverage. That might have been intentional. They didn’t steal any of AT&T’s thunder, but their offering has quietly gotten a lot of positive reviews. Where AT&T’s iPhone plan is incrementally more expensive through the data service on top of voice, T-Mobile service will likely reduce people’s phone bills by allowing them to drop their minutes’ plan and drop a homeline. This saves T-Mobile money, too, by routing more calls over a cheaper transport, gaining more customers, and reducing churn. Cell carriers spent hundreds of dollars per customer to acquire them or to keep them.
Pogue finds the whole package terrific. He’s not a big fan of the initial phones or their battery life, but he knows that there will be better phones in the future. He’s enthusiastic about the non-zero-sum-game aspect, however, in which both customers and the carrier reduce expenses.
The Wall Street Journal writes about the increasing amount of Wi-Fi found as a feature on cell phones, allowing VoIP calls outside carriers’ networks: A number of cell phones now include Wi-Fi for browsing, but on platforms that allow third-party applications to be installed—like Windows Mobile or Symbian, but not yet the iPhone (we know this before it’s released, even)—VoIP packages can make the phones even more useful.
This isn’t converged calling, like T-Mobile’s HotSpot@Home national network announced yesterday, in which Wi-Fi is used just like GSM, and is managed and controlled by the carrier and the handset. Rather, this is Wi-Fi used as an Internet connectivity tool over which arbitrary applications can run.
It’s one reason that Apple and AT&T aren’t allowing third-party programs on the iPhone at launch. With well-designed Wi-Fi and a powerful operating system, it might have been a matter of weeks for Skype, the Gizmo Project, Bria, and other soft phones and VoIP software with existing Mac OS X clients to be adapted.
A UK marketing director at Siemens says that two years of Wi-Fi-only mobile phones show that the market isn’t there: Of course, you know that I’d argue it’s really about the network, not the hardware. Wi-Fi phones without accompanying Wi-Fi hot spot plans and good Wi-Fi connection software (including corporate connectivity support, which isn’t hard to enable) are just toys, not tools. The Belkin Wi-Fi Phone is the only Wi-Fi-only phone that’s not a toy because it ties built-in Skype with Boingo Mobile for hotspot access. (At $180, it’s an expensive non-toy; add $9 per month for Boingo and $30 per year for unlimited US/Canada calling with Skype, and $60 per year for a real incoming phone number and voicemail.)
The director did say that combining 3G cell connectivity with the DECT cordless phone’s successor CAT-iq (cordless advanced technology for Internet and quality) could make a lot of sense, because CAT-iq uses the 1.9 GHz band, not the crowded 2.4 GHz band employed by Wi-Fi. (I’d argue here that 802.11n, when cheap enough and low power enough to put into phones will make efficient enough use of spectrum that that’s not really an issue.)
Siemens will release hybrid phones that use CAT-iq to make calls over landlines and the Internet via VoIP, and a gateway that can offer CAT-iq and Wi-Fi.
T-Mobile re-launched its HotSpot@Home service today across the U.S.: The service, initially offered just in Washington state since last fall, is now available nationally with new phones models, new router models, and a modified pricing plan, along with a short-term lifetime pricing reduction. See the main article at Wi-Fi Networking News about the launch.
The converged calling service Unik is seeing a fast uptake: Orange France has sold 250,000 of its Wi-Fi/GSM phones since its launch, exceeding a target of 200,000 units. The phones cost €9 to €79, but only 60 percent of buyers have turned on the Wi-Fi calling feature. Orange France charges €10 for unlimited calls to fixed lines and €22 per month for unlimited calls to Orange mobile numbers (23m of those). Orange claims it operates 30,000 hotspots to facilitate Wi-Fi only calling, but that number seems awfully high.
Cincinnati Bell Wireless is offering Wi-Fi/cell handsets for calling on local hotspots, cell network: The UMA handsets are $65 with a $15 rebate; $10 per month buys unlimited calls over Wi-Fi. The cell operator has 300 hotspots in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. Not mentioned is whether the carrier offers a home router with better features for VoIP calling (like improved power management).