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One beer or one Wi-Fi: It's not a surprise that the airline known for simple pricing and one-class cabins with no seat assignments opts for a flat rate. Southwest Airlines says it will charge $5 for in-flight Wi-Fi via Row 44 no matter the duration of the flight nor the device used. Other airlines, which use Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet, are following a multi-class script, with different prices for red-eye flights and flight length, as well as a discount for mobile devices. $5 is the cheapest regular rate Gogo charges, and that's for overnight flights.
Southwest says it tested various prices, and this is what it came up with. I'm sure its passengers would prefer free, but $5 is a nice round number that seems low, and it will appear low in relation to fees charged by other airlines. I'll be curious if competitors react, but I doubt it. Southwest may be highly profitable and have a model that works, but it's still a "discount" airline; the full-service airlines try to retain a distinction, and charging more is one of those.
Southwest will have 32 planes equipped with Row 44 satellite gear by the end of December, and its fleet will be fully outfitted by the end of 2012, the Denver Business Journal reports. This is the first airline launch for Row 44, which has been pursuing customers since about 2006. Aircell has over 2,000 equipped planes in the air, and snatched Alaska Airlines away from Row 44 this year. (Aircell recently lit up some air-to-ground towers in the state of Alaska, with more to come.)
Eye-Fi View provides Web-based access to recent uploads: Eye-Fi is a long-time favorite product of mine. The company scrunched a Wi-Fi radio, computer, and storage into a Secure Digital (SD) card, and has regularly updated capabilities. The current line-up, X2, has 802.11n, endless memory (auto-delete threshold after confirmed uploads), and other features. I use mine constantly; I haven't had to plug my camera or its card into a computer in months. (Eye-Fi cards are available at significant discounts off the retail price at Amazon.com.)
The latest update for X2 users is to Eye-Fi View, a Web site for viewing your recent uploads from anywhere that's tied in with the company's sync and management software Eye-Fi Central. (That software itself is a great update from the previous tool that used a Web browser, and was functional but clunky.) Eye-Fi View allows access to your images and videos at up to their full resolution to anyone to whom you send a private URL.
The service retains the last seven days of uploads at no cost. For $5/mo or $50/yr, you can upgrade to Eye-Fi Premium, which allows unlimited storage with no expiration of links or photos and videos. Eye-Fi View isn't enabled by default, otherwise you'd be uploading your pictorial evidence to Eye-Fi's servers without your consent—a bad idea, regardless of whether the photos and videos remain private or not. Eye-Fi View uploads to Eye-Fi Center, a Web site with the same name as the firm's computer software.
What does Eye-Fi bring to the table that Flickr Pro (at $25/yr) does not? Flickr Pro offer unlimited uploads and storage at full resolution for both images and videos. Flickr allows private sharing to groups you define (friends, family, or private groups you create). The public side of Flickr allows wide access to the rest of the net. I've had some of my images viewed thousands of times, which is gratifying.
However, sharing photos privately is a pain on Flickr if the group isn't identical each time. This is the same problem on many other sharing services, too, that assume either you want everyone to see pictures, or a group that's well defined and remains constant over time.
Eye-Fi View/Central are organized around simplicity (one control panel that automatically uploads), privacy, and changing members of the groups you want to share with. I'm not sure that's worth the $25/yr premium, but the market will decide that.
One advantage of Eye-Fi is that you can set this up for a friend or family member who doesn't want to have to hassle with photo transfers and such. The latest version can be configured to connect to a home's Wi-Fi network, and with endless memory, computer syncing, and Eye-Fi View, there's no management involved. (I've recently heard from several friends that their older parents have broadband for when their grown-up children visit! They rarely use it themselvs.)
Also announced today was an upgrade to allow Pro/Pro X2 owners to upload Raw format image files to an FTP server, which I'm sure photographers who work from that unprocessed style will find makes the Eye-Fi substantially more useful if FTP is part of their workflow.
And the online sharing and geotagging upgrades that can be added to less expensive models of Eye-Fi now can be purchased within Eye-Fi Center (the software not the Web site), and with lifetime prices of $20 for sharing and $30 for geotagging.
The Firesheep Firefox extension is the perfect demonstration of how unsecured connections on open Wi-Fi networks can be sidejacked: Sidejacking dates back to 2007, coined by Robert Graham, who pulled together a variety of known and new vulnerabilities and packaged them into an automated session snatcher. Sidejacking describes the extraction of a session cookie from another user on the same network to hijack the live session that user has established with a Web site, such as Facebook or Twitter.
While a login to a site may be conducted via a secure session, many sites then drop you back into an unprotected connection in which a token stored as a browser cookie ensures the continuity of your actions from page to page. That token is vulnerable.
Firesheep turns sidejacking into a click-and-install demonstration with 26 built-in site profiles to snarf. I explain Firesheep, sidejacking, and how to defend against it—using notions of security I've written about on this site for years—in an article at BoingBoing.
Five chipmakers have certified Wi-Fi Direct reference designs: Wi-Fi Direct is a terrific addition to wireless networking where a device that offers a service can broadcast that service's availability, like printing or file exchange or what have you. It's a form of peer-to-peer networking that doesn't require an access point to intermediate, and is ideal for mobile devices, and devices that lack much of an interface. The first five reference designs have been certified a few months later than the original rough target announced last year. (See "Wi-Fi Alliance Peers into the Future with Ad Hoc Replacement," 13 October 2009.)
Wi-Fi Direct has a few things in common with newer Bluetooth devices that pair with less effort than in the original Bluetooth schema, and in that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct both advertise available services. But the notion is that you get the speed (up to 802.11n) and security (WPA2 mandatory) of Wi-Fi with enormously simpler setup than connecting to a new Wi-Fi network for a moment and then setting up a connection with a specific device. And in cases in which you don't have an access point, such as trying to exchange a file between two mobile devices, it's extremely irritating. (On an iOS device, both parties could have a package like GoodReader that has built in WebDAV client and server software with Bonjour discovery, but you still need an access point to which both devices are connected, and security is an overlay.)
This announcement went around the world like a shot, but was typically covered incorrectly or incompletely in four ways. First, this is nothing new. The spec was announced a year ago; this is the culmination in silicon of that effort. It's great to see this implemented, because now we can move forward to have devices that support it.
Second, it's not yet available. The five certified devices are reference designs that other companies (OEMs or original equipment manufacturers), like Linksys, D-Link, Dell, Acer, and the like will build into products or relabel to sell under their own names. That means there's still some time to the market.
Third, this is host-side stuff—things to make a computer act as a Wi-Fi Direct enabler. It's not the technology needed for embedded client-side support in, say, an HP multi-function printer.
Fourth, there is no announced operating system support yet, even though Microsoft and Apple sit no the Wi-Fi Alliance board. That is not unusual for newly released hardware implementations of standards from the Wi-Fi Alliance or other groups. Apple and Microsoft both have near-term releases of operating systems upgrades on the timeline (Mac OS X 10.7 and Windows 8). It's most likely Wi-Fi Direct would appear in a new system, and might not be available in an older device.
Finally, and this wasn't addressed in any of the coverage I saw, you're going to need to see widespread adoption in mobile operating system platforms to make Wi-Fi Direct truly useful, and integration at a fundamental level of the OS. That means Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Palm WebOS, and Symbian (whichever version), as well as featurephone platforms from Nokia and others.
The reason is that mobile OS's, even the supposedly open Android platform, need to put Wi-Fi Direct hooks down into the driver level so that third-party developers can hook into a system-wide printing library that works with Wi-Fi Direct, or file-transfer support within apps.
Wi-Fi Direct is terrific, and I will be glad when it's widely available, But my prediction is that it won't have widespread impact until 2012. On the Wi-Fi timeline, that's perfectly fine. Each 802.11 standard as certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance has taken 2 to 4 years to percolate into the market. WPA2, rolled in 2004, is just now becoming the de facto security method, for instance. Wi-Fi Direct's greatest impact is on the future, not the present.
I went to try out the network today in a nearby Starbucks to little luck: Your faithful WNN reporter likes to test the dog food offered by companies he writes about, and so I set out this Saturday to visit a Starbucks nearest my home (reportedly the second busiest in the United States) to try out the new Starbucks Digital Network (SDN). The results were poor.
The store has no branding for the service yet. I used my iPhone to try to bring up a launch page; no luck. I checked, and I was on the AT&T network, and a deep technical detail on the phone indicated that it was a Starbucks node. I visited Starbucks.com, and there was a movie on the home page explaining SDN, but no links to content.
Finally, I searched Google for references to see if someone had slipped out a URL. TechCrunch had a screen capture with a visible address. I typed it in (quite long), and was redirected to m.starbucks.yahoo.com—Yahoo is the back-end operator of this effort. (Visit that address outside a store, and you get an error page: "It looks like you’re trying to connect to the Starbucks Digital Network in partnership with Yahoo!. You can only do this when you’re connected to Wi-Fi at company-owned Starbucks locations in the United States.")
The page that came up was clearly not designed to be displayed on an iPhone. It's possible there's a custom page that should have been shown. I entered starbucks.yahoo.com to see if a better redirect would occur, but I was pushed back to "m." A few top-level items are promoted, although a Yahoo search banner dominates the top. Below that, a free iTunes download, a promo clip for Waiting for Superman, and something else I cannot now recall.
I tapped a banner for News way at the bottom (I suspect that's due to the wrong mobile UI being presented), and very very slowly, a page with links to the New York Times Web app, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications appeared. I tapped, waited, tapped, and finally checked other sites over Wi-Fi. Clearly, the network was overwhelmed—there were an ocean of laptops in the store.
That's not great for a rollout. Staff needs to be trained. Table tents or posters should be up. The splash page should work. Bandwidth should not be so scarce. It might have been a glitch, but a fairly glaring set of them.
Update: Chris Wichura sent in a photo of the flyer on the table in a Starbucks he went into. No URL. Splash screen didn't work for him, either, it sounds like.
I was sick of this story months ago, but...: It's significant when a search engine that already knows everything about us apparently unintentionally learns even more. Google earlier discovered, disclosed, and had third parties audit its collection of unencrypted data broadcast publicly over Wi-Fi while taking photos for its Street View images.
One might expect this would contain password, private information, and email, and Google said today its audits revealed that it did: "It’s clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords," wrote a senior VP on the Google blog.
My reaction? If you're not using an encrypted connection to read email and you're not protecting your Wi-Fi link, then Google accidentally snagging some of your data is the least of your worries.
This is harsh, of course. The majority of users worldwide don't know how to secure their systems and data, nor should they. Operating systems developers, equipment makers, and ISPs have significantly improved basic encryption capabilities so that it's much easier and more likely a user with no special knowledge, after following setup steps, will have a secure link in place.
Take the simple matter of adding an email account to a mail client. In the olden days (say, 2007 and earlier), mail programs asked you to punch in details and connected only to servers and in methods you checked. A few systems and programs offered wizards to set up IMAP and SSL/TLS and authenticated SMTP and so forth, but ISPs were loathe to give everyone security service—too costly from an infrastructure standpoint.
That's changed. When I use nearly any program, host, or hardware to initiate some kind of connection, I am urged and sometimes hectored to use security, and often automagically taken into a secure realm. The iOS that powers the iPhone and iPad asks for email host details first, and then, invisibly, runs through a number of tests to see if it can establish one of several methods of SSL/TLS setups. If it can, it does. If not, it reverts to plain text, but also lets you modify the setup later.
Encryption is increasingly becoming the default. Google's "accident" should drive more people into figuring out how to solve their lack of security retroactively.
The ITU sets the minimum for 4G designation: The International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) has reaffirmed previous less settled criteria for what's a fourth-generation (4G) network. Current WiMax and LTE is nowhere near the cutoff point of 100 Mbps downstream for mobile and 1 Gbps downstream for fixed.
This isn't new, although this particular decision is new. I've been wondering by what logic Clearwire, AT&T, and Verizon were labeling current WiMax and first-generation LTE deployments as 4G, when they're incremental, welcome improvements over 3G. Some of it is architecture. As Stephen Lawson of IDG News Service notes, these networks were designed from day 1 for data, and are all Internet protocol (IP) from end to end. That's a huge improvement over 3G and it's a marked change.
The ITU-R doesn't do enforcement, and 4G isn't a trademark. Verizon Wireless and Clearwire told IDG's Lawson that the ITU-R move has no effect on their branding or deployment plans (nor should it on the latter).
My question for 4G deployment, of course, is that with it on track for 2014–2015 rollout, how realistic is it to come up with the channel widths necessary? It looks like the maximum speeds being discussed require extremely wide channels, like 100 MHz. That's not impossible, but no U.S. carrier has 100 MHz in a chunk that it materialize. The FCC white-spaces rulemaking frees up a bunch of 6 MHz pieces, and that's the last major realignment after DTV 700 MHz spectrum that I'm aware of.
The definition of 4G may now be set, but the ability to roll out 4G at anything like the minimum speeds promised seems highly problematic even in five years.
AT&T released its Q3 2010 usage statistics for the company's US Wi-Fi hotspot network: 107m connections were made in the latest quarter across 23,000 US hotspots operated by AT&T. This is more than all of 2009 (86m sessions), and a total of 228m for the first three quarters of 2010.
That growth is fueled by several factors, which I discussed 22 April 2010 in writing up the Q1 2010 statistics ("AT&T's Wi-Fi Usage Report Omits Switch to Free by Most Locations").
At that time, AT&T was looking at a quarter of free McDonald's service, along with a simplified access deal that Starbucks had put in place in December 2009. The latest quarterly report again doesn't mention a significant factor: Starbucks removing all restrictions on use, no longer requiring any card or account to access its in-store Wi-Fi; that change took place in July.
AT&T also added more iPhone users and had the first full quarter with 3G iPad owners who, with an active 3G plan (it's optional to keep it active) have free access across all AT&T paid locations.
The numbers are impressive, but it's still strange to me that AT&T leaves out positive mitigating factors that show its strength across several lines of business that lead to these huge numbers of sessions.
The company provided a nifty visualization, too, downloadable as a PDF file. (Preview below.)
Read the Wall Street Journal at no cost in a Starbucks over Wi-Fi: Starbucks first started talking about some of these ideas in...2001. Yes, the advantage of a decade on the Wi-Fi and hotspot beat is that you remember the first time this stuff came around. At that time Microsoft was a content partner, and would deliver local results in a walled garden. Times have changed, but just a little.
The Starbucks Digital Network is live, and requires a visit to a Starbucks store with a Wi-Fi capable device. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't know of any other effort that isn't quite limited—such as the movies available for rental at the Denver airport over its free network. All other location-specific, network-only content tends to be dull, like a portal with local weather reports.
The SDN gives you The Wall Street Journal for free, which otherwise costs over $100/yr. The New York Times is in on the action, with its New York Times Reader 2.0 Web app, which delivers a more interactive reading experience, akin to an iOS app. Apple will offer free videos and music. The awkwardly named Bookish Reading Club will let you read excerpts and full books in the store, too. Nick Jr. Boost, an $80/yr subscription service, is free on the SDN. Zagat's on tap, too. Other proximity-based content will be featured as well that's available for free outside of the coffeeshop's confines.
It's a clever move for Starbucks to counter its McDonald's competition, where Mickey D wants to service you quickly and send you on your way. Starbucks has peak hours of 5 am to 9 am, as I understand it, when people are inclined to move in and out fast in any case. After 9 am, the day at most stores unfolds more slowly, and lingering is a good idea.
Cnet reports Google won't resume vehicle-based Wi-Fi location collection: Google had a passel of problems this year around the world related to how it was scanning for Wi-Fi and (it says) accidentally storing some publicly broadcast information. Google was collecting Wi-Fi network names, unique identifiers, and signal strength information and associating snapshots of such details with GPS coordinates while also taking pictures for Street View. Wi-Fi positioning systems can analyze a snapshot made by a mobile or desktop device and provide GPS-like results in urban and suburban areas.
But Google hasn't given up on scanning, as it can rely on location information from Android-equipped phones, which pretty much all have GPS receivers built in and a data path at nearly all times back to the central servers to deliver the Wi-Fi snapshots and associated location information.
Wi-Fi positioning is used to provide a quick fix where GPS satellites aren't as reachable, and works well indoors where GPS receivers in mobile devices function poorly. Skyhook Wireless was the pioneer in this area, but is no longer provided data (and thus receiving data) from Apple, and filed two lawsuits a few weeks ago alleging Google interfered in relationships Skyhook had with two major handset makers delivering Android-based phones.
A chorus of yawns: The $250 femtocell has no calling plan reductions with it, but now it handles 3G voice and data instead of 2G only. Femtocells have a greater impact for carriers than for customers, many of whom could switch to another cellular provider. Femtocells should be a tool for customer retention, but it seems that no carrier has yet gotten the clue.
Verizon may have the best case for charging $250 (and no monthly fee) with the logic that if you can't get a clean Verizon signal, nobody else is going to be serving you any better, so you might as well plug into broadband for indoor cellular service.
Apple is letting Verizon Wireless sell the iPad: The trick? Verizon will only offer through its 2,000-plus stores the Wi-Fi iPad, not the 3G model. The 3G iPad works only over GSM networks (up to HSPA 7.2). Instead, Verizon will sell you a plain Wi-Fi iPad ($500, $600, and $700 for 16, 32, and 64 GB); or, for an extra $130, it'll throw in a MiFi router. That $130 is the same price difference Apple and its partners collect for a 3G iPad over its Wi-Fi–only brethren.
Verizon pairs the iPad and MiFi with plans nothing like what the carrier has offered before. These are fixed-price, moderate-use offers with no termination penalty; the terms are just like AT&T's offer for the 3G iPad, but Verizon's prices are better. Verizon will charge $20 for 1 GB ($20 per GB over that) and $35 and $50 for 3 GB and 5 GB (with $10 per GB overage fees).
AT&T charges $15 for 250 MB and $25 for 2 GB for its 3G iPad plans. Additional units of each can be purchased at the same price after the 30-day period expires or you use up all the data. Virgin Mobile offers unlimited Sprint Nextel 3G broadband with a USB modem or MiFi for $40 for a 30-day period.
Because the MiFi can handle up to five devices over Wi-Fi, one could argue that if you don't need an iPad and do need a MiFi, this is a slick deal. Buy the package and sell the iPad without even opening its box. You'll probably get a few dollars under list for it.
A series of stories yesterday appeared that said T-Mobile used to allow 10 GB per month of unmetered data use: This is incorrect. In April, T-Mobile switched from the standard U.S. carrier model of charging overage fees of 5¢ to 20¢ per MB for data used above 5 GB on the higher of two metered plans (see "T-Mobile Offers Overage Compromise: Throttling," 27 April 2010). Instead, T-Mobile switched to what European carriers typically employ. After using 5 GB during a billing period, the data connection is throttled to about 64 Kbps. Some customers might like paying $50 to $200 per GB over 5 GB; others might like the soft landing.
Stories yesterday, such as this one from a site devoted to T-Mobile news (TmoNews), stated, "If you may recall, previously the data cap was 10GB/month." I checked with a T-Mobile spokesperson, who confirmed my recollection was correct. I have spoken about this with T-Mobile several times, too, since April, and the cap was always 5 GB.
What may have spurred the confusion is a document that talks about such throttling starting "October 16"; TmoNews has a photo of the internal document meant for T-Mobile sales agents.
This kind of throttling, by the way, won't be mandated nor disallowed by the FCC under new disclosure rules it's imposing on carriers, but it certainly fits within the framework the FCC has set. The FCC wants sticker shock banished, and will force carriers to provide notifications before a customer hits a point at which fees will be charged. Many carriers offer mandatory or optional methods to be notified (at no cost) of such limits. But not all do, and international roaming is especially egregious. It's also difficult to turn off service to prevent such overages from happening accidentally.
T-Mobile, by pursuing throttling, with no extra fees involved, ensures customers on the 5 GB plan never pay an extra cent; they just have to cope with lower bandwidth.
T-Mobile will offer new data plans for USB adapters 18 Oct: T-Mobile has made several changes in the last year-and-some to reduce the cost to mobile broadband users with laptop adapters, as well as increase the predictability of the monthly bill. That included adding a no-overage 5 GB monthly plan (throttled, but not charged or cut off), and lower monthly prices for data service. Now, they're taking a page from Virgin Mobile.
Virgin Mobile now has a $40 plan for unlimited data over 30 days with no contract required, that works with either a 3G modem or a MiFi, both of which must be purchased in advance. T-Mobile's deal sounds a bit weaker, although its data network is faster. The three options are $10 for one week and up to 100 MB, $30 for one month and up to 300 MB, and $50 for one month and up to 1 GB. These are prepaid plans like Virgin Mobile's, with no contract or overage fees.
On the phone side, T-Mobile is switching to an AT&T-style data plan, with two unlimited voice and text plans. The $50/mo flavor includes 100 MB of data; for $70/mo you get 2 GB. A minimal plan includes 1,500 voice minutes or messages (any combination) and 30 MB of data.
Comcast has followed in Cablevision's shows with members-only free Wi-Fi across its Northeast service area: The cable firm has launched 2,000 hotspots in New Jersey and Philadelphia. An Xfinity broadband account is required, and that account information is used to log in to the network.
Comcast, Cablevision, and Time Warner are using Wi-Fi to varying degrees to provide customers a reason to stay instead of considering Verizon. The Northeast seems like one of the only truly competitive markets in the country. Verizon versus cable providers has resulted in lower prices, higher speeds, and no monthly caps.
Sprint executives leave Clearwire board: I missed this story of a week ago until sensationalist headlines started to appear reading more into the tea leaves than the murky water at the bottom of the cup. Sprint is the majority owner of Clearwire. That remains the same. Sprint has the power to appoint seven of the 13 board positions. That remains the same. Four of the seven board members appointed by Sprint remain in place, and Sprint will nominate three replacements for its executives.
The issue appears to be concern over whether Clearwire and Sprint's business objectives diverge sufficiently that Sprint executives or employees would make decisions that could be construed as anticompetitive or even detrimental to Clearwire shareholders. The SEC, Congress, and other forces have been pushing since the Bush administration to require boards made up of independent directors who have little stake in the current management of a firm.
The issue of whether this signals a partnership with T-Mobile or dropping WiMax seems secondary to the larger antitrust problem. And, if the company were considering partnering with firms other than Sprint for ventures, Sprint employees would be required to recuse themselves constantly, which is awkward for governance. Google CEO Eric Schmidt left the Apple board in part because of the growing competition between Apple and Google, and how often he had to leave the room while business was discussed.
Whether WiMax continues to be Clearwire's 4G flavor of choice won't be directly decided by this move. Sprint and Clearwire still need to prove billions of dollars invested to buy spectrum and build out a network weren't for naught. The widespread affordable availability of LTE is still two or more years away. Verizon might be launching dozens of LTE markets this year, but the gear will be 1.0, power hungry, immature, and in limited varieties. Clearwire can't afford to wait on LTE, and will still be deploying WiMax even if it makes a technology decision to switch to LTE in the future.
InfoWorld's Galen Gruman makes a number of conclusions in his WiMax Is Now Likely to Die article that I disagree with. Sprint execs leaving the Clearwire board won't affect ownership of Clearwire by Sprint, nor the inter-tie contracts in place between the two for network use and roaming. However, the likelihood of all US carriers and most worldwide carriers converging on LTE seems ever more likely.
FedEx has pulled the plug on charges at its FedEx Office outlets: These former Kinko's stores--I miss the old name--have had Wi-Fi for years, but it's been a for-fee service. Now, the delivery giant's 1,600 packing and shipping locations in the US will offer Wi-Fi at no cost; 1,000 already switched over, with the rest to come by the end of October. AT&T operates the service. It's smart: they come for the Wi-Fi, they stay for the shipping.
I couldn't recall whether the FedEx Office's chief competitor, The UPS Store, currently offered Web site. After 10 minutes on the company's site for the stores, I am still in the dark. The public relations folks at UPS told me there is no national offering. Rather, The UPS Store (formerly Mailboxes Etc) is on a franchise model, and each franchisee makes the decision. Some have, but the national office isn't tracking that.
Some restaurant chains that have a mix of company-owned and franchise-owned stores require new franchises to install Wi-Fi as a condition, while allowing old stores to remain Wi-Fi free if the owner chooses. That's part of why McDonald's didn't roll out to its entire US footprint initially.
Neither chain of shipping store is set up for people to come in and work café style, but in the many outlets of each that I've visited, there's always a little area to get something done, at least briefly.
Update: A reader points out that FedEx Office locations he's visited are set with with workstation areas that he's spent hours in. So perhaps this will be a third place to work for some people.
In truth, it never left them: New Android-based phones from T-Mobile will include unlicensed mobile access (UMA) calling that allows talking over Wi-Fi or cellular networks without using special apps or VoIP as such. This is a change in tactics for the firm, which deprecated UMA for the last year or more. The service isn't yet available, nor was pricing discussed in the press release.
T-Mobile introduced converged Wi-Fi/cell calling using UMA four years ago; I wrote one of the first articles about this for The New York Times as it was launched in the Seattle area. The service slowly rolled out nationally, and, as far as I could tell, was a hit among the sweet spot of the audience. That was people who had poor coverage in the home, rather than those exceeding their cellular data pool.
Unlimited cell plans started percolating out a couple of years ago, and T-Mobile's offer there trumped any advantage from the flat-rate, unmetered Wi-Fi calling service. (UMA's other advantage is seamless handoff between Wi-Fi and cell during a call, also not an issue with unlimited calling.)
At some point in the last year, the company's UMA details started to disappear, and new phones weren't featuring UMA. As far as I recollect, only a few BlackBerry models could be purchased new with UMA, although existing converged calling customers could use the service without a change. And T-Mobile pushed the service for businesses, where UMA could integrate right into the enterprise's Wi-Fi network, providing better pricing and call quality than use of a plain cell plan.
Today's announcement puts UMA back front and center, although I have a hard time understanding why it's important to the company. It gives them a slight advantage in very narrow areas, especially for budget callers.
The general tech media is covering this as an innovation and something spectacular and new. It's the problem with short memories.