Review: T-Mobile Unlimited Hotspot Calling

The trick is that it turns your over-air cellular calls into over-the-Net VOIP calls. If that sounds risky, know that it performed beautifully in our testing.

If you've already heard of this service, you probably know it as T-Mobile Hotspot@Home, the name it was given when it was first introduced. Recently, however, T-Mobile introduced a related service called T-Mobile@Home, which lets you make landline calls over the Internet for a flat $9.99 per month.

Since the names were similar, T-Mobile changed Hotspot@Home to T-Mobile Unlimited Hotspot Calling, which isn't nearly as catchy. Why didn't T-Mobile simply give the new landline service a different name and keep the Hotspot@Home name, which it had already spend money promoting? We don't know. It's occasionally hard to understand T-Mobile's decisions.

To use Unlimited Hotspot Calling, you'll need a Hotspot-equipped phone and you'll need to sign up for the service, which costs $9.99 per month. You also need to sign up for basic monthly cellular service at $39.99 per month or higher.

What about the router, you ask? T-Mobile sells two optimized wireless routers, one from Linksys and one from D-Link. Both sell for $29.99 (less with two-year commitment) and make your VOIP calls smoother thanks to integrated data prioritizing instructions. WhatT-Mobile would prefer you not know, however, is that the Internet calling works over any connected wireless router.

T-Mobile offers two branded, optimized routers for use with the Unlimited Hotspot Calling service.

We actually did most of our testing over an existing 802.11g router and call quality was fine. Occasionally calls had that underwater sound, but it was brief and rare. Quality was a better and consistent with the T-Mobile router, though.

If you already have a router you're happy with, perhaps one with an extended range that covers a large home, don't worry—you don't need to replace your router with the T-Mobile offering. A T-Mobile router can be joined to your existing router; just run the included setup software.

We tested Unlimited Hotspot Calling with two equipped phones, the Nokia 6086 (a basic budget model) and the BlackBerry Pearl 8120. Since introducing the service, T-Mobile has rapidly increased the number of WiFi-enabled phones. The Web site now offers eight models, half of which are BlackBerries

Not only will Hotspot phones shuttle calls over your home or work network, but they'll also instantly latch onto any free networks while you're out and about. Starbucks that offer T-Mobile Hotspots (which are, unfortunately, slowly being phased out in favor of AT&T service) offer Internet calling. Amazingly, the phones can juggle the hand-off from cellular service to Internet service without a hiccup.

T-Mobile customers can use the BlackBerry
Pearl 8120 with the Unlimited Hotspot Calling service.

In testing, we walked into and out of our home network area while making calls and never noticed any type of audio delay.

The Unlimited Hotspot Calling service allows for free calling within the U.S. only. For home-based workers, especially, it seems like a tremendous deal. If you're already paying for a higher-priced monthly plan, getting Unlimited Hotspot Calling will probably allow you to switch to a lower priced plan, making up the cost of the $9.99 monthly fee.

For more on Unlimited Hotspot Calling, see this page from the T-Mobile site.


Wi-Fi, T-Mobile, hot spots, UMA