Many of us use our cell phones as our primary means of contact, but sometimes poor cell phone reception prevents us from doing away with a landline altogether. T-Mobile's brand-new service called HotSpot @Home might be the solution to that. As long as you have a compatible cell phone, the service lets you make, answer, and receive calls via a wireless network. Calls made via Wi-Fi will not be deducted from your cellular plan, meaning you get unlimited calls as long as you're within range of the hot spot. Not only that, but the service will let you switch between GSM cellular airwaves and preconfigured wireless access points automatically. The HotSpot @Home plan is an additional $9.99 per month on top of an existing T-Mobile plan. If you opt for the family plan, it's $19.99 a month for up to five cell phones. The service is also compatible with all existing T-Mobile HotSpots, which are available in most Starbucks cafes and a few major international airports.
The HotSpot @Home service is currently only compatible with two phones: The Samsung T409 and the Nokia 6086. So no, your current Wi-Fi-enabled T-Mobile Dash or T-Mobile Wing will not work with the @Home service. This is because the Hotspot @Home service will only work with UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) phones that can transition smoothly between GSM and wireless networks. Hopefully T-Mobile will introduce more UMA devices in the future.
When you first sign up, you'll receive a complimentary wireless router that's optimized to be used with the Hotspot @Home service. Our review model was a Linksys, which is exactly the same as the Linksys WRT54G, except for a few software tweaks designed by T-Mobile. The T-Mobile version of the router also offers one-touch pairing with the phone of your choice, plus it is supposedly not as much of a strain on the phone's battery. We only used it for a limited amount of time and could not see much difference in the battery life of the phone, with or without the router. Of course, you can use your existing wireless router as well, as long as it supports the 802.11b wireless standard.
Setting up the service is a breeze. We installed the wireless router to our broadband network like the manual instructs, and then prompted our Samsung T409 to search for an available network. We found our SSID, entered in our security WAP keyphrase, and it was immediately connected. There was a definite increase in signal strength and reception. Without the wireless network, the T-Mobile cellular reception was rather low. The wireless reception, on the other hand, was almost full-bar strength. We tried the Samsung T409 with a regular wireless router, and it had the same effect.
Call quality was nothing extraordinary. Calls made via the wireless network and via good cellular reception sounded similar, with quite a bit of noise in the background and some minor interference. We could still hear our callers loud and clear, and vice versa, so this is not a deal breaker by any means. We could definitely see ourselves using this Hotspot @Home service as a landline replacement.
We also tried using the phone in and out of the hot spot to see if the call transition between cellular airwaves and the wireless network would go smoothly. We did so by abruptly ending the wireless signal by unplugging the router. Whenever we did so, calls would stall, and some would drop entirely. This is an unusual use case, however, so we won't take that into account. Then we just tried walking in and out of the wireless network, and even then there was a slight pause whenever there was a network transition. Since the Hotspot @Home service is new, we're guessing these are simply teething problems that may get resolved soon.
Overall, we're very pleased with the service. The GSM/Wi-Fi transition could be a lot smoother, and we wish that we could actually use the Wi-Fi to surf the Web (Web surfing is unfortunately stuck to EDGE speeds--a bummer), but we think the HotSpot @Home service is a very nice way to be rid of your landline and save money at the same time.