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Interesting piece about how T-Mobile, without cable and landlines, uses UMA for challenge: The converged unlicensed mobile access (UMA) roll-out in Seattle by T-Mobile is a foray in their attempt to build their market in the U.S. The company recently acquired billions of dollars worth of 3G spectrum, which they’ll spend billions to install. They have no wired landlines in the U.S.—as opposed to Cingular’s parent firms, Verizon, and until recently Sprint—and they aren’t associated with cable operators, which is Sprint’s major alignment at this point.
The UMA service offers ostensibly seamless roaming between cell and Wi-Fi networks, but even more importantly, reduces the cost to both the operator and the customer in delivering voice on the Wi-Fi side. T-Mobile’s HotSpot@Home plan requires at least a $40/month voice subscription, but costs just $20 per month for unlimited U.S. calls over the Wi-Fi side of the network. That’s comparable to most VoIP packages—although most VoIP lines include unlimited landline calls to Canada, Europe, and Australia, too. Each additional line in a family plan costs just $5 more per month for unlimited calling, make the overall package even cheaper for a larger family.
The article notes that the Wi-Fi calling won’t conform to federal E911 regulations, and when testing the service, I had to sign and agree to disclaimers regarding E911 service.
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.
BusinessWeek reports on T-Mobile’s testing of unlicensed mobile access (UMA): UMA converges cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks with a dual-mode phone acting as the conduit. The best network is used for calls by whatever standard the operator allows or requires and the consumers chooses, if they have a choice. The might mean the cheapest network (Wi-Fi over cell), the best quality (outdoors, probably cell over Wi-Fi, indoors the opposite), or a combination of factors based on a plan.
UMA isn’t rolled out yet, but T-Mobile solicited testers to try phones and Wi-Fi gear for “T-Mobile-At-Home.” According to recent research I conducted, it’s clear that Wi-Fi routers in their present form aren’t ideal for UMA. Instead, a few new standards need to be added to better allow reduced power by UMA handsets and control quality of service. The latter, known as WME and part of the 802.11e standard, is becoming widely available, but the power-control standard for handsets is only in specialized gateways at present.
AT&T is also planning to introduce similar services, whether strictly UMA (a standard) or just a similar converged idea is unclear; it sounds more like a phone with a switch than automated seamless roaming. AT&T is in the middle of acquiring BellSouth, which would also give AT&T 100-percent control of Cingular Wireless, and allow more flexibility in their Wi-Fi and cellular plans for AT&T home customers.
The article also notes BT’s existing similar service (which uses Bluetooth, but will switch to Wi-Fi soon), and Hawaii Telecom’s hybrid wireline/cellular service. Hawaii Telecom uses automatic call forwarding based on location.
Verizon has a slight problem with this service, because they might migrate home landline users to Verizon Wireless, which is minority owned by Vodafone. This would send money out the door to this partner that they would otherwise retain in a landline market. Of course, Verizon could also see a DSL uptake, which the article doesn’t mention, and capture revenue in other markets where they have no landline business. Verizon told the reporter they have no converged calling plans on the table.
South Korea’s second-largest broadband provider is testing Wi-Fi phones: The company will spend the next month testing the service with a commercial roll-out next year. Wi-FI phones make a heck of a lot more sense in South Korea, a smaller country than the U.S. with a more densely packed population and vastly more hotspots per capita.
Meru demonstrated voice over WLAN at a showcase in Kista, Sweden: In collaboration with OptiMobile, Meru also demonstrated a seamless handoff between GSM and Wi-Fi networks. I couldn’t find any mention on the OptiMobile Website of UMA or any of the other GSM/Wi-Fi convergence initiatives so it’s unclear if OptiMobile uses fully proprietary technology or whether it intends to follow one of the standardization processes.
Vonage is reportedly trying Linksys access points that could be used with Wi-Fi handsets for voice over Wi-Fi: Recent reports also have some Vonage customers trialing Wi-Fi handsets. Vonage could be planning to start selling a whole package that would include the AP and the handset so its customers could use voice over IP calling over Wi-Fi in their homes or offices.
Vonage once had an agreement with Boingo to test out voice over Wi-Fi in hotspots. Allowing customers to use their handsets in public hotspots is a more difficult offering because the operator would have to enable authentication.