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The New York Times reports that T-Mobile has launched its converged cell/Wi-Fi service in Seattle: It’s in my own backyard, but I haven’t seen it yet! The service will run $20 per month above a normal voice plan, which must be at least $40 per month. Two handsets are available, which cost $50 with a two-year service commitment. This service also requires a T-Mobile router, which the company charges for but offers a full rebate (the cost wasn’t mentioned). The service allows Wi-Fi roaming onto the T-Mobile HotSpot network, which comprises mostly Starbucks, but a few other chains, including Hyatt Hotels. The new service’s name is T-Mobile HotSpot @Home.
The requirement of a specific router relates to the low-power mode of handsets that needs a particular protocol embedded in the router to work—WMM Power Save. Few routers have this right now, but it’s really a protocol-level feature, not a hardware change. However, it does require Wi-Fi Alliance certification if you want to use the label on the product, and thus adds cost at that level.
The Seattle launch is a trial of unknown duration. The article also states that T-Mobile hasn’t said when it will launch nationally.
Update: There’s more information at TheOnlyPhoneYouNeed.com, including the useful information that Wi-Fi minutes are unlimited (which usually means there are limits, but I can’t find disclosure at the site). At $20 per month, this is a very clever move on T-Mobile’s part, because it underprices similar VoIP offerings, and yet is untethered from VoIP. The Web site is also a place to sign up with T-Mobile for notification when they add HotSpot @Home to your market.
This strategy of unlimited works well for T-Mobile. They currently offer a $30 per month package of unlimited GPRS/EDGE, and unlimited Wi-Fi usage on their network. That package also requires a $40 minimum voice plan. With the @Home offering, you could spend $50 per month for unlimited VoIP over Wi-Fi, mobile data (slow), and mobile data (fast).
It’s extremely compelling, and I’m a happy Cingular user. However, I have Speakeasy VoIP at home and at the office which I might be able to get rid of in favor of T-Mobile’s plan. We’ll see how this shakes out. What I’d really like is a way to tie in an ATA at home and the office so that I could use a mobile phone or a landline-like phone, too. [Web site link via GigaOm]
T-Mobile will start trying out unlicensed mobile access (UMA) later this year: The head of the telco said the service would be tried in a “city near and dear to our hearts,” meaning my hometown of Seattle. T-Mobile USA is headquartered not in Seattle, but close by, on I-90 east of Lake Washington. UMA offers calling over cell and Wi-Fi networks with seamless roaming as a caller moves between them. Some pre-UMA and UMA-like services can call from either network or require switching a phone between modes. The date of testing and launch, as well as pricing, were not announced.