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T-Mobile HotSpot @Home Review

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, has been around for years now, but T-Mobile is quick to say that its T-Mobile @Home service is different. More accurately, T-Mobile @Home is a hybrid of cell phone service and wireless calling. In short, T-Mobile would like to consolidate all your phone use into one phone. Not a bad idea, but how smoothly does it handle the transitions between wireless network and cell tower? And how much is it going to cost you? Read the review to find out.

Features and Design

The concept behind T-Mobile@Home is simple: give customers a single phone and number to use at home and on the road for one price. The @Home cell phone automatically switches to Wi-Fi when you are at home (using the included wireless router) or at a T-Mobile wireless HotSpot. It gives you the normal T-Mobile coverage when you’re out of range. Special add-on plans let you have unlimited minutes when on Wi-Fi.

Style-conscious consumers will cringe at the phone selections. There are only two phones available at launch: the Samsung t409 and the Nokia 6086. Under other circumstances, either of the boxy clamshells would probably be given away for free with a two-year contract. Here, the prices start at $49.95. Adding insult to injury is that the current cell phones don’t work on the T-Mobile @Home network, even if you happen to have one of the two models already.

T-Mobile Wi-Fi Phones
Current Wi-Fi Enabled Phones

Price

The phones start at $49.99, while either router runs $49.99 (again, with a limited-time-only full rebate). The phone and the router are the only necessary equipment.

Limited minute T-Mobile @Home plans start at $39.99, and any minute — via Wi-Fi or a regular cell call — is counted the same.

Unlimited minute T-Mobile @Home plans are $19.99 per month for single-line plans. Family-time plans run $29.99 and offer up to five individual lines (with one router). For a limited time, single and family plans are $9.99 and $19.99 a month. These @Home plans are actually add-ons to the traditional T-Mobile cell phone plans — albeit with the choice of only two phones — so consider the monthly fees in addition to your normal cell phone costs. The good news is that @Home offers unlimited minutes whenever you use the home router or another Wi-Fi spot. You just watch for the subtle logo change (in the upper left-hand corner) when you drift out of wireless range and into traditional cell phone coverage.

According to T-Mobile, billing is based on where the call originates. In other words, if you’re on the unlimited plan, starting a call while in a Wi-Fi network won’t tax your regular cell phone minutes. If you choose the limited minute plan, it won’t make a difference where you start the call. And, of course, if you start a cell call outside of Wi-Fi range, it will be charged like a normal call.

Setup and Use

Setup is straightforward and requires two items: the router and the phone. T-Mobile offers home wireless routers from D-Link and Linksys, two well-known brands. They look the same as your average router (sans the T-Mobile logo), but have supposedly been optimized for best Wi-Fi calling response. T-Mobile also says the sanctioned routers take up less cell battery life.

Replacing the old router with the T-Mobile router took about 15 minutes; 10 minutes were spent going through the step-by-step CD. The router will want to sync with the phone, but it doesn’t require much more than turning the phone on.

Both the D-Link and Linksys routers are $49.95 MSRP each, but they come with a full price rebate. It’s unclear how long the rebate will last, so take advantage while you can — especially if you don’t already have a router at home.

Wi-Fi Routers
T-Mobile Wi-Fi routers by D-Link and Linksys

As far as the phone, we reviewed the Samsung t409 and found it to be standard quality. Calls seamlessly jump between wireless router and T-Mobile’s traditional cell phone towers, with a preference towards wireless connections. A submenu lists password-protected wireless connections within radius — say, at the local Starbucks or McDonalds — and the security codes can be punched in via keypad. It was pretty painless.

Both the Samsung t409 and the Nokia 6086 come with myFaves, T-Mobile’s popular program that lets people do unlimited calls to five numbers per month.

Future Prognosis

T-Mobile has struck an innovative, affordable idea with its @Home services, but a couple wrinkles need to be ironed out. First, the cell phone selection is pretty awful; again, these are phones that, with any other plan, T-Mobile would probably be giving away for free. When asked about the paltry choices, a rep mentioned T-Mobile wanted to attempt the complex Wi-Fi/cell phone architecture with the most basic phones first. In the company’s defense, it says more phones are expected to come by early fall.

Second, the requirement of a T-Mobile router seems duplicitous, despite the routers supposedly having a special design. Many customers already have a wireless router at home. Requiring them to install yet another tech product seems unnecessary, and it would be much wiser for T-Mobile to find a way to optimize the routers they already have, rather than starting from scratch. Fortunately, the company had the forethought to do an instant rebate, but people may start complaining after the rebate expires.

Those concerns aside, T-Mobile @Home is clearly the precursor to the one-number America of our future. If you can swallow the generic phone selection, T-Mobile @Home is worth a try.

Pros:

• Solid call quality
• Easy switching from Wi-Fi to GSM network
• Nice price tag

Cons:

• Only compatible with two very average phones (at launch)
• T-Mobile recommends proprietary home router
• An additional cost on top of the traditional cell phone plan