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When T-Mobile introduced its HotSpot @Home service last year, we praised it for finally freeing us from the tyranny of the landline. The service lets you make and receive calls via Wi-Fi (as long as you have a compatible cell phone) in addition to the regular cell phone network. Therefore, you could just make calls for "free" (there's a monthly fee) as long as you're within range of a Wi-Fi signal.
But T-Mobile received complaints that people still were not ready to give up their landlines. The idea of one central home telephone is still a strong one, and using a cell phone when chatting at home is not something a lot of people wanted to adopt. With that, T-Mobile developed a VoIP solution aptly called T-Mobile @Home. All you need is a special router from T-Mobile, a broadband connection, and a regular touch-tone phone. Put it all together, and you're done. Of course, you can also use this router for the HotSpot @Home service mentioned earlier. The router is priced at $149.99, but you can get it for $49.99 with a two-year service agreement. The @Home service will cost you $10 a month on top of your existing wireless plan.
The router we tested was a Linksys router specially configured for T-Mobile. It has four Ethernet jacks and two RJ-11 phone jacks on the back, plus an array of green and blue LEDs on the front. Setting it up is the same as setting up any other wireless router, save for one difference: You need to install a SIM card. Open up a compartment in the back, and you'll find two SIM card slots--this means the router can support up to two separate phone lines. The SIM card slot marked Line 1 corresponds to the Phone 1 jack, and the Line 2 slot corresponds to the Phone 2 jack. So if you insert a SIM card in Line 1, you should connect your home phone to the Phone 1 jack.
After installing the SIM card, connect your broadband modem to the router and then connect the router to your computer like normal. From there you can attach your touch-tone phone to the router via one of the two phone jacks. When powered up, the green LEDs should then start flashing, while the blue LED indicates that a phone has been connected. You can now start using the phone straight away. If you wish to change any security settings, you can do so via the computer's Web browser. The entire process took probably less than five minutes.
Making calls feels just like making calls on any other phone. Call quality is comparable to landline, though we did experience a very slight delay at certain times, and a bit of hiss when we moved the cordless phone a little too far from the base. Otherwise, call quality is excellent. Also, the router's blue LED will flash if you have voice mail, which is a nice bonus indicator.
As part of the @Home plan, you get unlimited nationwide long-distance, caller ID, voice mail, call waiting, three-way conferencing, and more, all for only $10 a month. Another nice feature is that you can use ringback tones, or "CallerTunes," which you can't do on regular landline phones. We were provided a VTech cordless phone to test out the service, but it is completely optional--you can use the router with any touch-tone phone. If you do wish to get the VTech phone (which we actually quite liked), it's about $59.99.
Overall, we were very pleased with the experience. Call quality is excellent, setup is easy, and the low monthly fee certainly beats regular landline prices. We're still a little wary of advising people to give up landline service altogether in case of power outages or emergencies, but T-Mobile's @Home service definitely provides a very persuasive argument to ditch the old phone company.