T-Mobile weds cellular, Wi-Fi phone hookups - East Valley Tribune: Business

T-Mobile weds cellular, Wi-Fi phone hookups

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Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2007 12:07 pm | Updated: 7:33 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

If you have a cell phone, a home phone may seem an unnecessary burden. It’s another bill to pay, and you don’t need to manage two numbers. But many people cling to their land lines. Often, cellular reception is poor inside houses. I can’t tell you how often I have been dropped at home.

If you have a cell phone, a home phone may seem an unnecessary burden. It’s another bill to pay, and you don’t need to manage two numbers.

But many people cling to their land lines. Often, cellular reception is poor inside houses. I can’t tell you how often I have been dropped at home.

Heavy callers may also hang onto their landline. They use their land line to stay within their cell plan’s minutes. After all, racking up a huge cellular bill is easy.

However, a better solution recently came along: a dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular phone.

Wi-Fi is not new for phones. Some, like Apple’s iPhone, have it built in. But they don’t use it for calling. Calls are placed over cellular networks exclusively. Most carriers fear Wi-Fi calling would cannibalize lucrative cellular plans. There are also single-mode Wi-Fi phones. These can’t access cellular networks. They’re designed for use with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services.

Enter HotSpot @Home

The new solution is T-Mobile’s HotSpot @Home service, introduced June 27. Maybe you didn’t notice. It came out the same week as Apple’s iPhone. Oops!

HotSpot @Home lets you use both cellular network and Wi-Fi connections. To use the service, you must buy a compatible cell phone. T-Mobile offers only two. With a two-year contract, they’re $50 after rebate. The offer is only for new subscribers. Current subscribers pay the full $180.

The phones are no-frills flip phones. However, they do include cameras and Bluetooth. T-Mobile may offer more phones in the future.

How it works

The phone continually searches for cellular and Wi-Fi connections. It monitors them to see which has the strongest signal.

If an adequate Wi-Fi signal is detected, your calls are routed over it. You won’t use up your cellular minutes. The transition is seamless. You probably won’t notice when calls are passed off.

If you leave the range of your Wi-Fi signal, your call is handed to the cellular network.

T-Mobile’s system can’t recognize when you switch networks. So, you’re billed according to where the call originates.

If you begin a call on a Wi-Fi network, you pay nothing. If you start a cellular call, you pay even if you switch to Wi-Fi.

Finding a hotspot

The phones will work with any wireless router (802.11b/g). However, there are a couple of caveats.

First, the phones work best with one of two routers T-Mobile offers. The routers cost $50. There is currently a $50 rebate, though.

With these routers, your phone will get better battery life. That’s because your phone doesn’t need to search for a Wi-Fi signal. Rather, the router sends a signal to the phone.

For password-protected Web sites, you enter the password on the phone’s keypad. But if the network has advanced encryption, you’re out of luck. Also, the service won’t work at hotspots that require log-ins via a Web page.

The phones will work on T-Mobile’s wireless hotspots. That means you can place free calls at Starbucks, Borders and other locations.

Cost

To get the service, your plan must be $40 or more. It adds an extra $20 to your bill. For a family plan, you pay $30. You can use it with up to five phones. T-Mobile is currently offering an introductory discount of $10. Expect more carriers to test the waters with similar services in the future.

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