Is T-Mobile Hotspot calling worth it?
April 21, 2009 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I am strongly considering switching to T-mobile and a big draw for me is wifi hotspot option. Specifically, I am looking to get a Hotspot enabled phone and use it through my home Wifi connection for better reception and/or, I might spend the additional $10/month and get the unlimited hotspot calling option. I am not talking about T-Mobile@home.

If you're using your T-mobile phone for hotspot calling (VOIP) how well does it work and are you happy with it?
posted by nnk to Technology (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I've been using T-Mobile's "Hotspot" (UMA/GAN) service on my cell phone for about a year now. We have no signal at work and only a weak signal at home, and I've found the UMA service to work very well in both locations.

I've never noticed any problems with the voice quality or latency when using UMA, but handoffs between the cellular and WiFi networks and from one WiFi access point to another can be glitchy.

Sometimes when I'm walking through a building at work and the phone tries to switch from one WiFi AP to another, the call will drop and the "Phone" application will hang for about 5 minutes, preventing me from making or receiving any calls during that time. This is annoying but it happens rarely. I suspect that the problem is a bug in my particular phone's operating system (Blackberry 8320 4.5.0.81), so other phones may not have that problem. Also, if you're primarily using the WiFi at home and only have one access point, you shouldn't have to worry about this at all.

If you start a call on your home WiFi and then leave the home, your phone will (obviously) need to switch from the WiFi network to the cellular network in order for your call to continue. The same thing would in the opposite direction if you start a call outside and then go inside, if there is no T-Mobile signal in your house. I have good luck with these handoffs; they usually succeed and even when they don't, they've never crashed my phone. Your luck with these handoffs will vary based on the strength of the T-Mobile signal in your house and the strength of your WiFi signal outside of your house. In general, having overlapping signals in a larger area will increase the chance of a successful handoff.

Any thought on what phone you might get? The only UMA phones I've used are the Blackberry 8320, Blackberry 8900, and the Nokia 6086. I wasn't a fan of the Nokia but I've been very pleased with the Blackberry.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 6:52 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm curious to hear other people's responses. In my experience, this is really not a very good idea.

For whatever reason, we just never got very good reception at home, even though our block looks well-covered on T-Mobile's map. We went to the T-Mobile store with the intention of complaining and either getting the problem resolved or canceling. What we did instead was let the salesperson talk us into getting the wifi-enabled phones and signing a new contract. My wife and I both got the Nokia 6086, which was the cheapest of the wifi-enabled models available.

Our experience with the phones was just absurdly bad. Calls got dropped more than half of the time. Sometimes the phone would arbitrarily decide to switch from wifi back to the cell network, which usually resulted in the call being dropped. But even when it did manage to stay connected through an entire call, the audio quality was very poor. I practically had to shout to have the other person hear me.

We have 16 mbps internet access and three wireless routers spread throughout the house, so I really don't think that our internet was the problem. I can only assume that quality is better with the special routers that T-Mobile peddles, but I still sort of feel like the whole thing's just not worth messing with.

When I finally did call T-Mobile insistent on getting all of this resolved, they didn't spend much time trying to troubleshoot the wifi problem (I'm guessing they're well aware of it). Instead, they took some real steps to try to resolve why we were getting such crappy coverage in the first place (checking the towers, etc.). Once they established that they couldn't do anything to get us service in our house, they actually waived the rest of the contract, which surprised me. So it wasn't a completely negative experience. I just think that as for the wifi access, the technology's really just not there yet.
posted by roll truck roll at 6:53 PM on April 21, 2009


A friend of mine has it on her blackberry - she never really used it (came free with her package) until we traveled to Argentina together and started using her bb over random wifi connections. We discovered she could make free unlimited texts, regular voice calls, etc for free. Apparently there is no geolocater that limits you to the US.

Amazing feature. If you travel internationally its completely worth it just for that.

I used the phone a few times, voice sounded clear, etc... No problems detected on my end. Just made calls like usual.
posted by jourman2 at 6:54 PM on April 21, 2009


So there you have it. It sounds like Juffo-Wup's experience with a nicer phone was much better.
posted by roll truck roll at 6:55 PM on April 21, 2009


nnk: I am not talking about T-Mobile@home.

The names are weird, I know. So you're not talking about having a home phone that's a VOIP phone, right? You're talking about having a cell phone that has the capability to seamlessly switch from the standard GSM cell phone network to VOIP through a wifi connection?

If so (I'm certain you are, just making sure) then what you're talking about Generic Access Network (GAN) calling, known commercially as Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA). I have a GAN/UMA phone, the Nokia 6301. I really love it - Nokias are really comfortable to me, but this one is particularly nice; it's robust and sturdy, and it's also particularly attractive to my eye. More to the point, it's extremely functional; I get great reception, particularly on wifi but also just on GSM. I am also very happy with the fact that it has enough settings that I can set it to GAN-only, thus avoiding using any of my minutes. That's a nice plus.

Also, one thing you should consider: I am no expert in GSM/UMA/whatever cell phones happen to use, but theoretically GAN technology should work on any network; it's the phone that does the switching, and it can switch to any wifi signal regardless of source. Of course T-mobile would like you to believe that this is pretty exclusive so that you're buy their happy little wifi hubs and sign ten-year contracts and everything, but that doesn't mean it's so. So, theoretically, I believe you could get a Nokia 6301 or another one of these phones and use any GSM network.

It's actually a question I've been meaning to ask, since somebody else will probably know better than me - this would work, wouldn't it?
posted by koeselitz at 7:12 PM on April 21, 2009


Hell, I've thought hard about just giving up my service and using this phone only on GAN - there have been months where I've lost service because I forgot to pay my bill, but I didn't know it until I left my house and lost the wifi signal - and I could call again if I just found another wifi signal and dialed in.
posted by koeselitz at 7:15 PM on April 21, 2009


roll truck roll: In my experience, this is really not a very good idea.

For whatever reason, we just never got very good reception at home, even though our block looks well-covered on T-Mobile's map. We went to the T-Mobile store with the intention of complaining and either getting the problem resolved or canceling. What we did instead was let the salesperson talk us into getting the wifi-enabled phones and signing a new contract. My wife and I both got the Nokia 6086, which was the cheapest of the wifi-enabled models available.


You're right - that was a bad idea. The Nokia 6086 is that rare creature, a crap phone made by Nokia. Everyone I talk to who's had one has had the same experience. That's why it's the cheapest GAN phone you can buy. And, having been with T-mobile for years, I know how bracingly noxious the salespeople and the contract can be - I don't even buy phones in the store or over the internet from T-Mobile at all anymore. I just buy on Ebay or elseway.

But my Nokia 6301 is pretty awesome. And I like the fact that I'm free from T-mobile now, since I don't need a network at all to make calls.
posted by koeselitz at 7:28 PM on April 21, 2009


I have to agree with Roll Truck Roll - my BB 8320 has constant problems with sound quality and dropping calls while on UMA, despite having Verizon FiOS and a very strong WiFi signal. I'm fortunate enough to have strong T-Mobile coverage in my home (White Plains, NY), so I have just set my preferences on my BB to the T-Mobile EGDE network over UMA / Wi-Fi, and I've been fine. The only thing I use the Wi-Fi for is data.

In general, I have found T-Mobile's coverage to be poor compared to people with AT&T and Verizon, and the glitchy nature of the UMA doesn't help. It's a great idea, but it needs more work. Don't switch to T-Mobile just for this feature.
posted by GJSchaller at 7:53 PM on April 21, 2009


GJSchaller: It's a great idea, but it needs more work. Don't switch to T-Mobile just for this feature.

I'd give the same advice, but for different reasons. GAN/UMA gets a bad rap here in the US because the evil BlackBerry-loving corporate heads hate the idea of people being a bit freer from locked-down, contract-requiring networks; they haven't released half of the really good GAN phones here, and the networks, even Tmobile, don't publicize them much beyond trying to sell a few wireless hubs and trick people into paying more for something that's actually free.

Meanwhile, GAN was standardized more than four years ago, and the current specifications require quality, consistency and flexibility. The companies that still make GAN phones that sound like crap in wifi mode are doing it because they either can't or won't (more likely the latter) make good GAN phones.

But you should be able to try GAN/UMA phones without switching to T-mobile - and, take it from me, switching to T-mobile is a bad idea.
posted by koeselitz at 8:20 PM on April 21, 2009


Thank you all - I have a much better understanding of what I would be getting into.

GAN/UMA/GSM still sounds appealing to me, despite some of your misgivings and I am still thinking of switching to T-Mobile because I am kind of fed up with Verizon (this technology isn't available with Verizon phones, right?)

As for phones, the selection at T-Mobile was really limited. I was considering the Samsung T339, but having looked at Koeselitz's link, I think I would skip buying a phone from T-mobile (I am not going to get a contract, so it doesn't make a lot sense to buy their phone at full price (which is definitely one of the things that is holding me back)) and consider the phones on Koeselitz's link (of course stay awaying from that cheapo Nokia!) -- Any more thoughts on those phones would be appreciated.
posted by nnk at 9:00 PM on April 21, 2009


Just looked at T-Mobile's website. I might be wrong about how many of the phones on the UMA Today list are offered by T-Mobile. Still, I'm glad for the link - it got me thinking beyond the Samsung.
posted by nnk at 9:09 PM on April 21, 2009


The closest you can get to this with Verizon is the Network Extender - basically a mini cell tower that connects to Verizon via Ethernet. Problem is they don't give you unlimited minutes (unlike Sprint and AT&T's microcell products, which do have unlimited minute options). No monthly fee associated with it, though.
posted by agentmunroe at 5:33 AM on April 22, 2009


It's probably kind of clear that I don't have all the acronyms down, but I definitely have a much better understanding of what I am getting into if I do it. So thanks again.

It's amazing with all of the choice out there it's still hard to find a phone and a plan that makes complete sense for me. T-Mobile at least seems to have the best possible plan options for me. I will probably bite the bullet and make a change - I just don't plan to be locked into a contract in case it doesn't work out.

Oh, the good old days when the phone attached to the wall was the only choice and everything was much, much cheaper!
posted by nnk at 8:19 AM on April 22, 2009


there have been months where I've lost service because I forgot to pay my bill, but I didn't know it until I left my house and lost the wifi signal - and I could call again if I just found another wifi signal and dialed in.

I hope this isn't too much of a thread-jack, but are you saying I could turn my old T-Mobile phone back on, use it with my internet, and not be charged some kind of crazy fees? Really?
posted by roll truck roll at 12:27 PM on April 22, 2009


@roll truck roll: My understanding is that to use UMA you pay T-mobile $10 a month for unlimited minutes.
posted by PueExMachina at 11:00 PM on April 22, 2009


I think that's just for the unlimited minutes. When I was a T-Mobile customer, I did not pay the extra $10, so the minutes I used over the internet were just counted the same as regular minutes.

But what koeselitz seems to be saying above is that the VOIP feature on some T-Mobile phones works even if you're not an active subscriber. If that's true, it blows my mind.
posted by roll truck roll at 7:40 AM on April 23, 2009


A couple points:

If you pay T-Mobile an extra $10/month, they will not count minutes that you use via WiFi/UMA/GAN against your plan. However, you do not have to pay the $10/month. If you do not, the WiFi/UMA/GAN minutes will count against your plan as normal.

When using WiFi/UMA/GAN to place calls, you are still using T-Mobile's network. The only difference is that you use the Internet to connect your phone to T-Mobile's switching network instead of using a T-Mobile GSM tower to do so. In either case, T-Mobile's network is responsible for connecting your call to the party you are calling, and they will not do this if you are not their customer. If you are able to place calls with a T-Mobile phone on WiFi/UMA/GAN while your T-Mobile account is suspended, this is a mistake on T-Mobile's part and not the normal mode of operation.

Here's what I know with regards to using UMA/GAN with non-T-Mobile networks: The mobile network that you subscribe to _must_ support UMA/GAN in order for you to use UMA/GAN on that network. This is because the effect of UMA/GAN technology is to allow your phone to connect to your mobile operator's network via the Internet. If your mobile operator does not accept such connections, you won't be able to use WiFi/UMA/GAN with them. It is feasible for any GSM operator (in the USA, this mostly means T-Mobile and AT&T) to support UMA/GAN, but, to my knowledge, the only operators in the USA that support UMA/GAN are T-Mobile and Cincinnati Bell. Notably, AT&T does not offer support for UMA/GAN.

It may be theoretically possible for CDMA carriers (in the USA, this primarily includes Sprint, Verizon, Alltel (now Verizon), and US Cellular) to offer UMA/GAN service but I am not aware of any CDMA carrier that actually does offer this service. Both Sprint and Verizon offer picocells; devices that can be plugged into an Internet-connected network and that use the standard cellular protocols and frequencies to boost their signal in the immediately surrounding area.

I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to telecom technology, so please feel free to ask here or MefiMail me if anyone has any further questions about this kind of thing.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 9:10 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


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