T-Mobile Announces Wi-Fi Enabled Calling For $10 A Month

David Pogue of the NYT has written a gushing article about T-Mobile’s new WiFi enabled calling feature:

It’s called T-Mobile HotSpot @Home, and it’s absolutely ingenious. It could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, and yet enrich T-Mobile at the same time. In the cellphone world, win-win plays like that are extremely rare.

Here’s the basic idea. If you’re willing to pay $10 a month on top of a regular T-Mobile voice plan, you get a special cellphone. When you’re out and about, it works like any other phone; calls eat up your monthly minutes as usual.

But when it’s in a Wi-Fi wireless Internet hot spot, this phone offers a huge bargain: all your calls are free. You use it and dial it the same as always — you still get call hold, caller ID, three-way calling and all the other features — but now your voice is carried by the Internet rather than the cellular airwaves.

Sounds like a good deal to us—pick up this feature, drop your minutes…make more calls. Anyone see a downside?

IPhone-Free Cellphone News [NYT]
(Photo: cmorran123)

Comments

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  1. wring says:

    wait, what? even long distance?

  2. zekedms says:

    This actually has a chance of T-mobile keeping me as a customer, if the service functions. Let’s see how the voice holds up when I’m using most of my bandwith up(which is to say, almost always), before giving it the thumbs up.

  3. golfinggiraffe says:

    Supposedly, the $10 monthly fee is just if you want the unlimited minutes when you’re around a router. On the other hand, if you have an @Home-compatible phone, you CAN STILL use a wireless router connection to compensate for poor cellular reception at your house; the only difference is that the minutes will come out of your package, as normal.

  4. ceejceej says:

    Meh… considering I can’t even get cell service in my house, I doubt this WiFi will work either. And I’m not all that excited about “compensating” for the lack of service with an NEW service. Why not just fix the existing problem?

    Every other cellular service works in my house, Sprint, Cingular, Verizon… but get within 5 feet of the front door and T-Mobile goes dead. If it weren’t for the ETF, I’d be back with Cingular.

  5. not_seth_brundle says:

    So, by my rough calculations you’re talking about almost unlimited cell phone service + internet for $75/month + tax? I hate to say it, because I hate T-Mobile, but that actually sounds like a really good deal.

  6. G.Quagmire says:

    This is awesome. (yeah, even long distance). This is one of those things that makes so much sense & is such a good deal that it makes me think “How they hell can they do this & not lose money?”

    just to play devil’s advocate:

    * right now it only works with 2 phones – the Nokia 6086 and Samsung t409. I know other T-Mobile phones like the Dash & the other PDA/smartphones currently have wifi , so it shouldn’t be too hard to add it to those. But if you want it on a Blackberry, you’re out of luck until RIM gets a model with wifi out there.

    * if you’re frequently out in the boonies, 2 things are likely: no T-Mobile coverage (i.e. you’d be roaming), and no Starbucks every 2 blocks, so coverage could be spotty, but no more so than having T-Mobile sans wifi enabled calling.

    * if you currently have one of the lowest-priced plans with free nights & weekends, have decent reception at home, and never go over your minutes, then this is going to actually cost you a little bit MORE than what you’re currently paying.

  7. G.Quagmire says:

    This is an AMAZING deal if you travel internationally & would only be calling the US. The last time I was in London for a month, I had a $900 cell phone bill even using calling cards. I should have bought a pre-paid SIM card, but this is way better.

    This makes me want to leave AT&T even more now – just waiting for the wifi-enabled Blackberry.

  8. bobbycreekwater says:

    I wont and probably cant go into details but I was a beta tester for this service almost a year ago and although it had its fair share of bugs (beta) it was a good idea and worked great! The only thing that sucked was the phone that you had to use with it, a samsung. Other than that I will be signing up for this service to replace my land line.

  9. FLConsumer says:

    Gee… I’ve only been doing this for the past 2 years with my UTStarcom 6700 PDA/phone. The only difference is that I’m using my home # (Viatalk) which also rings my cell on incoming calls. Extra cost for me to do this? $0.00. I already pay Viatalk’s fee (~$8/mo) for my 2 phone lines through them. That’s it. Just downloading a simple SIP phone client on the PPC was all that was needed.

  10. dethl says:

    I’m going to be moving from Sprint to T-Mobile thanks to this. I have access points all around me at college, this is perfect.

  11. David Pogue is the man. He and Walt Mossberg are the only two tech writers I listen to.

  12. bohemian says:

    This would be great if you lived in one of those cities that has free wifi everywhere.

  13. stopNgoBeau says:

    It works! I have been using it since the day it was started (Wed, June 27) and I haven’t been happier. I also am with Cingular until my contract expires in August. I can barely make calls on that phone, so I am shopping for different service. At this point, I will be keeping my new T-Mobile account.

    Also, when you go to any T-Mobile Hotspot (Starbucks, etc) you get the same free phone calls just as if you were at your house.

    Don’t think it will work at airport where you have to “sign in” using webpage (free or for charge) before, as you would have to activate your MAC on the service before it would work.

    In hotels, I just bring my own wireless router, which has its MAC authorized first (via a laptop) and then my phone works fine.

    BTW, I am using the Nokia phone. Battery is kinda poor, it only lasts three days, but the service is fantastic.

  14. KitN says:

    I was one of the lucky winners of the Hotspot@Home Sweepstakes that took place on July 3rd at eleven T-Mobile locations throughout the country. I went to the T-Mobile store hosting the event in NYC (Madison Ave @ 42nd St).

    I took a bunch of photos with my camera phone and posted it to my new blog. You can take a look at it here: http://www.technofied.blogspot.com

    As far as the actual Hotspots@Home service, let me elaborate:

    - You need one of the two Hotspot@Home-enabled phones that T-Mobile sells: Samsung t409 or Nokia 6086 to use the Hotspot@Home service.

    - You can basically connect to any router though some routers might kick fits but that’s extremely rare.

    - When you enter range of a wifi hotspot be it your own, your neighbors’, Starbucks, Borders, whatever, the phone will attempt to connect to the hotspot.

    - The phone seamlessly hands off an active call from cellular to wifi and back again. For instance, if I receive a call while on cellular then enter my home (that has wifi), the phone will seamlessly hand off the call to my wifi network without dropping the call. And the reverse holds true.

    - If you start a call on wifi then the phone switches to cellular, you are billed for the call (if you have the $9.99 add-on)! You could have free calls even on cellular if you’re smart to start the call when near a wifi hotspot! BUT, the reverse holds true: If you start a call on cellular then the phone switches to wifi it’s still considered a cellular call and the minutes will be deducted from your normal bucket of minutes– depending on the time of the day. If you have free nights/weekends and, say, that call at 10PM on then obviously your whenever minutes won’t be debited.

    - You have to pay $9.99 for UNLIMITED Hotspot@Home service BUT you don’t have pay the $9.99 if you just want to make wifi with yourHotspot@Home enabled phone. Calls on wifi will just come out of your normal bucket of minutes.

    - If you have weak T-Mobile coverage in your home or any area that’s covered by wifi like your office, you literally now have full T-Mobile coverage due to the Hotspot@Home service! The wifi now takes place of cellular and you can use your cellphone (over wifi) even if you have ZERO T-Mobile cellular signal in that particular place.

    - It’s recommended that you use one of the two T-Mobile branded Wireless Routers. The T-Mobile routers are specifically configured to save on battery and also prioritize wifi calls over other data being sent over your wifi network so that you always have crystal clear calls without fear of choppy, cutting out internet calls that plague a lot of VoIP services.

    - If you live in an area blanketed by wifi like municipal wifi or have a ton of available hotspots around you, you’ll have UNLMITED calling to and from anyone in the USA 24/7 (if you have the $9.99 add-on)! No more worrying about how many cell minutes you have left, overages or having to wait until your night/weekend minutes kick in to make a phone call! Whoo-hoo!

    - For $9.99, Hotspots@Home can completely replace your phone and/or office line! You’ll have 100% segnal strength. If this deal isn’t incentive enough to ditch your landline, then I honeslty don’t know what is.

    - In the event of an emergency, you have E911 calling BUT in the event of a power failure, just like VoIP, you loose your ability to make calls, even E911, over wifi unless you have the router and modem hooked to a back power source. But not to worry, if you have T-Mobile coverage your phone will simply switch over to cellular and you can make calls– if you don’t have T-Mobile coverage, then you’re at least allowed to use the E911 service on someone else’s network.

    Hotspot@Home is really a great service. T-Mobile is the first carrier in the USA to release anything like this. It will help people save tons of money and cover holes in their network by using wifi as a substitute for cellular coverage: Anywhere you have wifi you have 100% T-Mobile coverage. All of this with ONE small, lightweight flip phone. You can’t beat that with a bat!

  15. KitN says:

    Oh, forgot to add that you can’t log onto wifi hotspots that force a web-based login process like at some airports and hotels.

  16. Rudko says:

    How come no one is bringing up the potential down sides to this?

    The biggest one being theft of service issues. Most legitimate public wifi hotspots have some sort of an authentication system, even if they are free like in hotels there is often a web based click through agreement to terms of use. Not sure how this is going to fair with those. That leaves open wifi routers from folks homes and businesses. Here in Michigan, it is something like a 5 year felony to use an open wifi connection without permission.

    Also, you are going to be subject to bandwidth problems if the wifi connection get saturated. This is basically going to be the same as if you lost your cell phone reception in the traditional method.

    And it will make it one heck of a lot easier for me to listen in on your phone calls if they are going over my tcp/ip network unless there is encryption going on. And I am not sure if standard wiretap law has caught up to voip yet.

    Anyway, just my initial cynical thoughts. I am sure there a lots of good use that can come from this feature (like your own home wifi router), but the roaming where ever and using public wifi I think is going to be less beneficial that it seems at first glance.

  17. KitN says:

    “- If you start a call on wifi then the phone switches to cellular, you are billed for the call (if you have the $9.99 add-on)! You could have free calls even on cellular if you’re smart to start the call when near a wifi hotspot!”

    ^^^ I need to make a correction on a typo. It’s supposed to read:

    -If you start a call on wifi then the phone switches to cellular IT’S CONSIDERED A FREE CALL (if you have the $9.99 add-on)!

  18. jeff says:

    Cincinnati Bell Wireless began offering this type of service (CB Home Run) a few months back (April 2007) if i remember correctly. I have had it since then as I was one of the “trial” test users. To my knowledge it is exactly the same as what T-Mobile is offering. It costs the same and offers the same, Free Calling when connected to the Wifi Access Point. Also supposedly when you make a 911 call, the phone will attempt to use the cellular network instead of the wifi one, even if it is connected to the wifi at the time the call is placed.

  19. maevro says:

    @loquaciousmusic:

    He is kind of annoying on his TV show.

  20. yegoshin says:

    F-THAT! I already have ALL OF the ABOVE for FREE!!!!
    Please don’t be a stranger check out http://www.truphone.com

    FREE VOIP calls off Nokia cellphones. They give you a 253 area code phone number free. when you are not near wifi it will foward calls to the SIM number thats currently inserted into your phone. I use T-Mobile prepaid off ebay 150 minutes for $5-$8. Whenever I put a new SIM in it updates my number off the sim on the Truphone service. Sound is great even when I am torrenting stuff.

  21. Transient says:

    I can only imagine the burden to their poor technical support crew.

  22. FLConsumer says:

    using a SIP client on a PDA will let you use wifi hotspots with those nasty welcome/login pages (a.k.a. captive portals).

  23. shoegazer says:

    @yegoshin: With most SIPs the calls are free only to others with the same installed SIP. (I know truphone is offering free US calls till December).

    The T-Mobile plan really would fit my needs better because I don’t need to worry about who or when I’m calling. I hope this comes to the UK because central London is a giant wifi spot.

  24. Chese says:

    My local phone company offers this service but the phones they offer it with look rather old. It is a cool idea however, I would like more phones with data though!

  25. FLConsumer says:

    @shoegazer: Most of the VoIP companies in the states offer SIP access. Sure, it’s not 100% free if that’s all you use it for, but if you already have active SIP accounts, adding one more extension often costs nothing. Doesn’t cost me anything extra with my provider.

  26. mermaidshoes says:

    i think it’s really funny that people can’t talk on the phone inside their homes these days, while it used to be that you couldn’t talk on the phone outside. irony, anyone? i’m thankful that my phone (motorola w/ verizon) has always worked pretty well indoors. the battery drains almost instantly when roaming, but i’m inside a lot more often than i’m out in the boonies.

  27. lyndyn29 says:

    Um, holy sh*.

    I live in an area with incredibly crappy cell coverage, but I’m never without wifi. My workplace, my home, all of the businesses I frequent, all have hubs. Hell, the only time I would use minutes would be for bread-and-milk calls from the grocery store to home, and I’m not entirely sure I couldn’t pick up the coffee shop on the corner from the grocery store.

    Of course, early innovators never turn out to provide the best service, so I’ll probably wait a couple of months to see what the competition comes up with. But this is really, absolutely a service model that could have been custom-tailored for me.

  28. justarep says:

    @Lyndyn29: T-Mobile’s actually been testing this for nearly a year. I hear you on the waiting on the early innovation thing, but this is been a long time in the making, comparatively.