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Review: HotSpot@Home means the emergence of convergence

Capable of automatic handoffs between cellular and VoIP

By Bill O'Brien
July 16, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - There are cell phones, which are nearly ubiquitous these days, and there are landline phones, which most of us have in our homes. There's been a lot of talk about converging both types of service so people will need only one phone and one phone number, but that hasn't happened -- until now.

T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home service, which the cellular operator just made available in all its service areas, is probably the first converged mobile/fixed service available to consumers throughout the U.S. It enables you to use one phone to make both cellular calls when you're mobile and Wi-Fi-based voice-over-IP calls when you're stationary.

Better still, it transfers calls seamlessly between the two types of network so that if you walk out of range of one network, the call can continue without interruption on the other network.

Getting started

T-Mobile gives you two phone choices if for its HotSpot@Home service: the Nokia 6086 and the Samsung t409. The Nokia has music capability and is an international phone. The Samsung will give up to eight days of standby time vs. Nokia's five.

Once you pick your phone, you must add a service plan and possibly some additional hardware. T-Mobile will happily sell you a wireless router with a T-Mobile brand on it that, it turns out, will be from either Linksys or D-Link. However, you don't need one of T-Mobile's routers if you already have one. There's only one small difference: setting up security. If your router is password-protected, you'll have to enter the password on the phone before it can connect. With one of T-Mobile's routers, you simply press a button.

All told, you can leave the T-Mobile online store with a phone, a plan, HotSpot@Home service and a router, having shelled out just about $100 immediately for the hardware. In addition, you'll pay a one-time $35 activation fee and as little as $50 per month thereafter, depending on which plan you choose and current incentives.

Connecting to Wi-Fi

With this system, there are cellular calls, Wi-Fi calls and calls that switch from one to the other when you walk out of range of one network and into range of the other. Not surprisingly, cellular calls operated precisely as expected.

We encountered absolutely no problems making Wi-Fi calls -- as long as we could connect. This system doesn't miraculously cure Wi-Fi dead spots in the home, of course. Usually, a remedy simply means shifting position a bit to get out of the basement or to clear the two walls lined with metal kitchen appliances that stand between the phone and the router. Once such hurdles were cleared, sound quality was surprisingly clear and crisp.

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