T-Mobile rolls out its latest HotSpot@Home offering, Talk Forever Home Service, in Seattle and Dallas: The service, launching in those two markets on 21-Feb-2008, uses a new Linksys router that has two integral RJ11 phone jacks, and accepts SIM cell authentication modules for each line. T-Mobile can port your home numbers to the built-in lines, which also have 911 location information encoded based on your address.
The fee is just $10 per line per month for unlimited domestic calls--you can choose one or two lines--and includes all the features found on cell phones, such as Caller ID, 3-way conferencing, call forwarding, and others. The router costs $49 with a two-year commitment, and the service requires a broadband connection. (This router was spotted on the FCC's site in August 2007, so this isn't much of a surprise; it's all in the timing.)
This new service works alongside the existing HotSpot@Home offering, which allows converged Wi-Fi and cell calling using one of four handset/smartphone models that T-Mobile offers. Pricing was recently lowered for this service to $10 per month for unlimited domestic calling on up to 4 cell phones, making it an easier win for family plans. You can choose either or both the mobile or landline-replacmenent services, but the newer router is required for landline calling.
T-Mobile will still suffer from the same ills that befall standard VoIP (voice over IP) systems like Vonage, because they can't guarantee the transit of data reliably between their supplied router over the customer's broadband connection to their voice gateway. But unlike Vonage, they control a lot of network components, and are less beholden to third parties. And as part of Deutsche Telekom, they're in a better position to complain and see it through if they're discriminated against by competitors.
Both HotSpot@Home and Talk Forever Home require a minimum $40 per month voice calling plan. That means if you sign up for both the mobile and fixed plans, you spend a total of $60 for unlimited home calling on a single line; unlimited weekend and evening calling; either 300 minutes with a MyFaves package (unlimited calls to 5 other domestic numbers of any type) or 1,000 minutes with a current standard individual plan promotion; and unlimited mobile calls originating on Wi-Fi, whether at home or in hotspots. (T-Mobile has a 5-year deal in place with AT&T to cover Starbucks locations as AT&T takes over operations this year of the coffeeshop's Wi-Fi.)
Joe Sims, T-Mobile's broadband products vice president and general manager, said in an interview that they were looking to "address the remaining reasons people were reluctant to cut the cord" and ditch their home wireline service. They found that 50 percent of those signing up for HotSpot@Home are new customers to T-Mobile, and were happy with the service's general uptake, but wanted to remove the last stumbling block to bring landline customers (of other telecoms) over to the service. One in 8 households have cell-only service, Sims said.
Sims noted that this is the "very first T-Mobile product with a dial tone." He also said that the company would have a total of 10 handset models by the time school starts this fall, up from 4 models currently. The World Mobile Congress last week in Barcelona saw the introduction and demonstration of piles of dual-mode cell/Wi-Fi phones, some of which include UMA (unlicensed mobile access), which is the specific technology T-Mobile deployed.
The home line service rolled out to Dallas and Seattle--my home town--can't handle fax machines or alarm systems yet, which is an important proviso. Electronic fax services like Maxemail can more cheaply replace a dedicated fax line, however, and newer alarm systems can be fitted with cellular calling. If you cut your monthly landline bill by $40 per month or more with this service and your long-distance bill by $20 to $40 per month, you might have the money to shift over to the alarm system.
Sims also commented on the Starbucks deal, noting it was critical to T-Mobile that "our customer experience didn't change." I asked if T-Mobile, now having consummated a real roaming relationship--it had some roaming deals for airports and international networks before--might consider other partners, given that their HotSpot@Home service would benefit from a greater number of locations for placing calls. He said, "Going forward, we are looking at other roaming partners. It's less about the footprint and more about the service."