Rave: I Really Like T-Mobile

For the past three years T-Mobile has been my cellular carrier. I chose them back at a time that I was traveling to Europe periodically and wanted a service that would provide access via the European GSM carriers.

Prior to T-Mobile I had been with Verizon Wireless.The more time goes on the more I like T-Mobile. Their customer service has been pretty good, at least when I needed something it was possible to get it done. I’ve had my phone replaced at least twice. I’ve also had a failed SIM card replaced.

Summer of 2007 was a little rough as they had some serious problems with their Blackberry 8100 phones. This turned out to be a problem with the phones firmware. However it was a couple of months before T-Mobile acknowledged the problem and RIM addressed the matter. Once a firmware release was available the service was robust again.

Since T-Mobile is the only major US cellular carrier not also in the land-line business they face a unique set of challenges. They can’t put together triple-play, quad-play offerings like the larger companies. They’re just not in those other businesses.

I don’t care. These things don’t matter to me. What I want from a cellular carrier is good cellular service, and exemplary customer service.

It also helps if a carrier moves quickly to adopt new handset hardware when it becomes available. This is one of Verizon’s great weaknesses. Their hardware selection is always very old and lame. It’s just one aspect of being a CDMA based carrier

So far T-Mobile has kept me happy. In some of their more recent offerings I’m seeing some very interesting things and some thinking that I respect and admire.

Hotspot@Home

In the middle of 2007 they released a service called Hotspot@Home that let subscribers make calls over their home broadband internet service using wifi capable dual mode cellular handsets.

At first the handsets available for this service were limited and very lame. However, as they year wore on the release of new wifi capable Blackberry models opened up new opportunities. It certainly looks like I could use the very latest Pearl to make calls via wifi. Part of the magic is reported to be the seamless handoff of a call from the wifi to the GSM networks while the call is in progress.

The economics of it are a little questionable for me. It costs $30/ mo in addition to your cellular account. That’s considerable. It also requires that you have a dual mode phone in the house in addition to your normal cell phone. That is, if you want to port your home line to the service and have it ring a phone when you’re not at home, but your wife is.

So, while interesting I have not signed up for this service. Nonetheless I admire the fact that T-Mobile is thinking “outside the box” about ways to take land-lines away from AT&T.

Talk Forever

This month they are testing a new service in Seattle and Dallas. This new offer, called “Talk Forever Home Phone” is a new twist on Hotspot@Home. It involves wifi router device with built-in GSM termination capability. It’s a broadband router with FXS ports. You install a GSM card to give it your account data and it lets you make calls using your broadband. However, instead of requiring a dual mode cell phone it has a couple of FXS ports. You can therefore plug-in and standard analog phone. They offer a traditional cordless phone as an optional upgrade.

WSJ’s Walt Mossberg has written a review of the service here. He’s been part of the beta program so he can speak from experience. However, I feel that his review is overly critical.

Mr. Mossberg notes that E911 location details are not automatically provided by the carrier. The end-user must provide the address of their location one time during the setup process. Evidently Mr. Mossberg has limited exposure to voip services where this is the norm.

For any service that is not permanently tied to a geographic location this is to be expected. How can the carrier know where you install the router? Further, you could travel with it and take advantage of the service while on vacation. Perhaps T-Mobile could make it easy by assuming that the billing address is the location if the user fails to perform the setup online. Ultimately I think this is an inconsequential quibble as long as T-Mobile ensures that a location is actually provided.

He further notes that the service doesn’t work with fax machines, security systems or anything that uses a modem. These points are more significant but impact a smaller group of people. The fact that the first leg of the service is voip over the public internet means that such applications may be unsupported. The calls traverse the public internet from your network to the nearest T-Mobile switching center where they are then moved onto the companies managed network infrastructure.

In truth, if I had not already ordered my SIP-GSM gateway I might have been compelled to try Talk Forever when it eventually rolls out in Houston. In fact, at $10/mo I may still try it.

The SIP-GSM gateway will appear on the T-Mobile account as a second line on a cellular family plan. It will share minutes with my main cell phone, although that could be “unlimited” for $99/mo + $10/mo. Economically both the SIP-GSM gateway and Talk Forever both make much more sense for us than Hotspot@Home.

We are a little unique in that all of our phones, both home and office are SIP hard phones. That means that I’d need to add an analog cordless system to take advantage of the FXS ports on the Talk Forever gateway.

I wonder what sort of traffic management & QoS features are provided in the Linksys router? I certainly wouldn’t want to make it my main router, but it could be installed downstream on the LAN as was the case in Mr. Mossberg’s installation.

It’s innovative service offerings like these two from T-Mobile that make me want to continue to support the company.

11 thoughts on “Rave: I Really Like T-Mobile”

  1. If I understand the “Talk Forever” plan, the special router actually does SIP to a nearby T-Mobile proxy… you insert your GSM card to simply provision the SIP client, correct?

    So, why couldn’t T-Mobile offer the SIP proxy/credentials for asterisk? Limiting SIP to only one register per account should protect their credentials.

    That would be a well spent $10/month if you talked over 500 minutes per month.

  2. I’ve not been able to confirm that it’s SIP but that would make sense. Since the service is only on trial in Seattle and Dallas at present it’s not easy to know for sure. It would be great if someone at T-Mobile or someone with access to a test installation would comment. Perhaps there’s some details at http://www.broadbandreports.com in the voip forums?

  3. What would be really cool would be to get a Hotspot at Home compatible phone and hook it into your asterisk system through chan_mobile bluetooth hookup. Then you could have unlimited dial in and dial out through your asterisk sytem and never use any minutes from your cell phone. Now that sounds like a good weekend project.

  4. Actually, I think that’s problematic. It means you need to leave a phone at home and powered for it to work all the time. Also, Hotspot@Home ($20-30/mo) is more expensive than “Talk Forever @ Home” which is only $10/mo.

    Since Talk Forever @ Home provides two FXS jacks on the router that means using a two port FXO to bring it into Asterisk. Argh…FXOs again! They’re better now, but still.

    Plus, I’m not so certain that I want to use the T-Mobile provided Linksys device as my main router.

    The GSM gateway still makes sense. It’s SIP so it’s 100% digital. No FXO tuning, Zaptel issues, etc.

  5. Hotspot at Home is 10.00 per month and you do not need to use their router. If your router handles QOS well then their is no need for their router. So for the $10 for the hotspot at home and the $10 for the extra line you can add unlimited dial in and dial out through the cell line. Obviously, talk forever at home requires their router as it has the SIM slots. The key for me is that the chan_mobile idea or the gsm gateway allow you to pipe the calls into and out of your asterisk system. I have the Portech and have never been able to get it configured to my liking with either Trixbox or PBXinaFlash. My next project may be the chan_mobile idea as I have the correct USB Bluetooth adaptor sitting around and an extra Treo 650 that is not being used.

  6. The prices I had had seen quoted for Hotspot@Home were initially higher.

    What problems are you having with the Portech gateway? I just starting playing with it yesterday. I’m using Astlinux so I’m hand coding the extensions & SIP entries as opposed to using Trixbox or PIAF.

    I was able to make it register with the server with not trouble. Hope to move beyond that today.

  7. I can make it register as an extension and it will make and receive calls using two stage dialling. However, some part of the setup (or bad firmware) makes it hang after receiving a few calls. What I would like to do is set it up as a trunk so that it can easily be integrated into the dialplan for all calls to tmobile numbers. FYI, I got the incoming to work by setting the destination as 7777 which takes it to my initial office IVR.

    I do not want to have to dial extension xxx, pause for dialtone and then dial again. I am thinking of losing one of my office PSTN lines which cost around $75 per month and utilize the extra tmobile line either through Portech or chan_mobile. I am going to give chan_mobile a try today. If that works then I will try it with a UMA compatible phone and give H@H a try.

  8. Hello. where did you get this gsm gateway from? how much did it cost? and how do you configure it with gsm based cell phones?

Comments are closed.