In San Francisco, T-Mobile has announced a major WiFi push, called “Wi-Fi Un-leashed”, and other features that should catch the attention of all smartphone owners in America. First, the company is announcing that from now on, every T-mobile phones sold in their store will have built-in WiFi calling capability, which will allow them to make calls over WiFi, even when Cellular coverage is not available. It is essentially like “adding millions of towers” as T-Mobile’s CEO says.
T-mobile customers can also elect to get a free T-Mobile router (a nice T-mobile-branded ASUS AC router…) which will act is a “Personal CellSpot” in their homes – for free (there is a $25 deposit). Finally, using the built-in WiFi capabilities of these phones, users will be able to enjoy unlimited SMS messages and get their voicemail during flights. More details below… AT&T also has a similar offer based on a different technology (femtocell), although it costs more than $150 to get it. It does have the advantage of working with non-AT&T phones, while T-Mobile’s WiFi calling only work with T-Mobile phones.
WiFi calls are not really a new feature. T-Mobile has been working on it for almost a decade, and it started with UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access). What’s new here is how pairing WiFi Calling with VoLTE can lead to a seamless transition of calls from your home WiFi network to T-Mobile VoLTE network. This has been a challenge for this type of technology, but we’re getting to the point where it will truly be transparent to users.
The main benefit is to let customers extend the reach of the T-Mobile network in places that cannot be reached by conventional cellular wireless technologies, because if depth, shielding or simply lack of coverage. By offloading the voice to the user’s Internet connection, T-Mobile extends its reach way beyond carrier that do not deploy WiFi Calling. In the US T-Mobile is the main entity to use this technology. And Sprint is starting to deploy it as well.
The recently announced iPhone 6 is the first Apple smartphone to support this feature, and T-Mobile CEO John Legere, is riding the media attention of this yearly event and has been taunting his competitors from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, two of which are reluctant to use such a technology because it may affect how they charge for minutes or data.
But what happens to users who don’t have a WiFi-capable phone? Well, T-Mobile is allowing folks to sign in on its Jump upgrade program for a $10 fee. The move is temporary and exceptional said John Legere, so existing T-Mobile users should take notice.
It is known among travelers that T-Mobile has become a very friendly carrier, with its worldwide free data roaming (2G/3G) and its low-cost International voice calls (20c/mn). First, all WiFi calls back to a US number will become free.
Secondly, this is going to get better: starting from Today, all 8000 flights with GoGo Internet access will allow T-Mobile users to send unlimited SMS (any phone, any country) and receive their voice mail during the flight. This is an excellent move that will further consolidate T-Mobile’s value for this particular crowd.
Users who bring their unlocked phones from non-T-mobile carriers will not be able to use these WiFi features because there needs to be extra software in the ROM. While some have claimed to be able to add these by “Rooting“ (hacking to change the core system files of) the device, it remains a very tiny niche of users.