T-Mobile may be extending its Hotspot@Home service to offer voice over IP for fixed-line users.
The company is working with Linksys to make a router that integrates home phone lines into the service along with providing VoIP service over cell phones, according to recently filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission.
In June, T-Mobile launched itsservice, which allows T-Mobile cell phone subscribers to transfer calls seamlessly between the T-Mobile cellular network and a Wi-Fi hot spot in the home. The service is being offered for an introductory rate of $9.99 for a single cell phone. So far, it only supports two phones: the Samsung t409 and the Nokia 6086. Subscribers are also able to use the service with T-Mobile's more than 8,500 hot spots around the country.
With the Hotspot@Home service, subscribers get a D-Link or Linksys home router that is optimized for the service. The router also provides Wi-Fi service that can be used to connect PCs and laptops.
The way it works is that when subscribers are in the home and picking up a Wi-Fi signal, their voice calls use voice over IP technology to connect calls over the Wi-Fi network. And when they're on the T-Mobile network, the calls go over the traditional T-Mobile network.
According to the FCC documents, the new router, which hasn't been officially introduced, has two ports in the back that can be used to attach regular phones to the router. This would allow Hotspot@Home users to add regular home phones to the service.
The new router, which uses the moniker WRTU54G, also has two slots that support two GSM SIM cards. This would also allow users to add up to two additional cell phone lines.
If T-Mobile brings the router to market, it could put the cell phone operator in a much better position to compete with the two largest phone companies in the country, AT&T and Verizon. While T-Mobile has no fixed phone infrastructure in the U.S., AT&T and Verizon do. They also offer cell phone service, which they are bundling into larger packages of service. Cable operators are also offering home phone service using VoIP technology. And four of the major operators, including Comcast and Time Warner, are launching wireless service with Sprint Nextel. By extending the Hotspot@Home service to include regular home phones, T-Mobile, which is currently ranked fourth out of the top four U.S. mobile operators, could also offer a bundle of services to attract customers and keep existing customers from fleeing to other carriers.
This seems like a much more strategic use of VoIP technology than simply offering a standalone VoIP service, like Vonage is doing or like now-defunct SunRocket had been doing. Those services are simply a cheap replacement for regular phone service. But when residential VoIP is bundled with other services, I can see it appealing to more customers.
Representatives from Linksys and T-Mobile declined to comment on the new device. A Linksys spokeswoman said the company can't comment on unannounced products. So stay tuned for further developments on what T-Mobile might be up to.