As a follow up to the rambling wifi device post I made previously, I picked up one of the Tmobile Hotspot at home devices. Actually, that would be a phone and a router. For information check out their website here. The name is "The only phone you need." Hmmm.
The phone that comes as part of the kit is either a lower end Nokia or Samsung phone. The phones are both fine but aren't blowing anyone away with fancy features. THE fancy feature is a UMA chip. UMA stands for Unlicensed Mobile Access and what it essentially means is that you can use WIFI, at least in this implementation.
I am a long time Tmobile user for my personal primary phone. One of the bad things about Tmobile at my house is that there really is only one place in my house that gets good reception. I tend to overlook that because I try not to talk on the phone at home. With the new Hotspot@home phone, this issue disappears. What the phone allows you to do is to make phone calls using your wifi as the origination point. An added bonus of this is that for calls that originate on wifi, they don't count against your plan. Essentially they are free. An added bonus to this is that whenever you walk into a Tmobile hotspot, your phone also automatically routes itself to the hotspot for call origination/termination.
Ok, Derrick, so that's fine except I talk when I am driving in my car and last time I checked there isn't any wifi on the road. True and in this case the handset seamlessly transitions to the Tmobile network. Pretty nifty stuff. As an added bonus, if you start your call on wifi, and jump in the car and transition to their network, the call is still free. I have to say that I was really skeptical of the handoffs but upon multiple trials, I found that it is excellent. There are occasional issues, for example, when I walk out my house the Tmobile connectivity is bad and the handoff either gets mangled and sounds like hell or actually drops. In general though, that is the rare exception.
So I like it. Now what? Well when I thought it through, to me the benefits of this service are mainly two. First, this kills those companies that are trying to magnify the cell signal in your home. If carriers adopt UMA configurations like this and consumers happen to have broadband, then this is a great way to ensure that you have good cell coverage at home. I guess that's why they call it The only phone you need, which I assume is a reference to the need to have a landline at home when your cell doesn't work.
The second benefit is the extension of free minutes for consumers. In my case that doesn't do much since I have a 5000 minute plan, but I get the value for people who have broadband, which I think is an important distinction. The reason I point that out is because the phones they deployed in this package are pretty underwhelming and given my perceived demographic skew of users who have broadband, they are probably not phones that more affluent customers would want.
What I anticipate though are future devices that are similar to my smartphone. The benefit of the UMA access would be great to use as a web surfing device, for file transfers within a local area and some of the other things you see with the Apple Phone. The questions this raises though are around cannibalization of existing business models and possible breaks in the closed or controlled nature of the networks. My bet is that several of the carriers will approach this in a thoughtful way that will ultimately result in a wow kind of consumer offering. I am not entirely sure what that is yet but I think that one can see some of the elements beginning to form and how they could possibly be joined.