T-Mobile UMA Launches

The New York Times reports on the launch of T-Mobile’s UMA service:

To gain access to the service, called T-Mobile HotSpot @Home, customers must buy a phone that works on both networks. T-Mobile is selling a choice of two handsets that cost $49.99 for customers who sign up for a two-year rate plan for at least $39.99 a month. Subscribers are charged $19.99 a month in addition to their regular cellular plan fees.
Customers also need a wireless router, which is free with a rebate. The router is then connected to any available broadband line for home or office use. The phones connect not just to the wireless router, but also at any of 7,000 Wi-Fi hot spots that T-Mobile operates at Starbucks coffee shops, Hyatt Hotels and other public locations.

T-Mobile has set up a Web site, www.theonlyphoneyouneed.com, for customers who want to sign up for the service.
Since customers can make unlimited calls using their broadband connections, the service represents a threat to Vonage, SunRocket and other companies that offer phone plans over high-speed Internet connections. The service also gives T-Mobile a leg up in competing with Sprint and other cellular carriers that are trying to develop similar services.
The dual-use phone service may appeal most to younger consumers who do not have a traditional phone line and rely solely on cellular phones and broadband lines.

“For the below-30 age segment, it’s a no-brainer,” said Roger Entner, a wireless industry analyst at Ovum, a consulting firm. “This is also a threat for other wireless carriers because it fixes the problem of poor coverage inside homes.”

This is definitely a big deal especially considering how prevalent locations like Starbucks are with TMO hotspots are. I know plenty of people who only carry mobile phones and to whom being able to both conserve minutes on the go as at home via WiFi would sound very enticing.

What I’d really like to see as a next step is the capability of phones to become enabled for this type of service without having to buy all new equipment. Clearly this is far more advanced and would require some effort by the consumer which the new router and phone from TMO defeats… I get that. My point is that there is already an existing audience of enthusiasts like myself with WiFi capable handsets and mobile VOIP access. I can do both TruPhone and Gizmo on my Nokia E61… just not as a single service inter-linking with my existing cellular. Actually – Truphone defines multiple Access Points (3 by default) so you can automatically connect to work or home WiFi as you enter range… assuming you leave it enabled. My data connection can also auto-switch between cellular and WiFi thanks to Birdstep’s smartroaming… voice is the next logical step.

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