Bellevue, Wash. — T-Mobile launched its hybrid Wi-Fi/cellular service today on a nationwide basis to consumers interested in replacing their home landline phones with Wi-Fi-equipped cellphones that offer unlimited Internet calling from the home or from T-Mobile’s 8,500 Wi-Fi hot spots.
The carrier’s HotSpot@Home service has been test marketed in Seattle since late last year.
To take advantage of the service, however, consumers must buy one of two Wi-Fi-equipped HotSpot cellphones, Samsung’s t409 and Nokia’s 6086, each selling for $49.99 with a two-year contract on a qualifying rate plan.
Other carriers, in contrast, are considering similar services that don’t require Wi-Fi and can be used with any cellphone registered with the carrier. That technology, called femtocell technology, uses a miniature in-door cellular base station that talks to a cellphone over the cellular spectrum, then routes the conversation over a connected broadband modem. T-Mobile’s service, in contrast, uses Wi-Fi-based Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) technology, which requires the use of a Wi-Fi-equipped cellphone to place wireless calls through a Wi-Fi-equipped broadband modem from inside the house.
With both technologies, a call is handed off from the Internet to the cellular network when the subscriber is out of range.
For its UMA service, T-Mobile also partnered with router makers D-Link and Linksys for Wi-Fi routers optimized for the service. These routers also offer the data features of standard routers and work with a customer’s existing broadband connection. The routers are available free via mail-in rebate.
For a limited time, T-Mobile is offering the new service for $9.99/month per phone when added to a qualifying T-Mobile cellular voice plan. The service will cost $19.99/month for up to five lines for subscribers on a FamilyTime plan.
UMA and femtocell technology takes traffic off congested cellular networks, but they’re also designed to encourage people to use their cellphone as their primary home phone without using up cellphone minutes and without suffering from poor in-home cellular coverage.
“We see a clear trend toward mobile phones displacing landline phones especially with younger consumers,” said Gartner Group analyst Tole Hart. “The most common barriers to cutting the cord to date have been the reliability of their mobile phone in the home and the cost of buying additional minutes.” Gartner research shows that more than 10 percent of cellular users use their mobile phone as their only phone and that among 18- to 34-year-olds, almost 30 percent use their mobile phone as their only phone, he said.