I have found the phones wifi capability to be especially handy. When within range of a wifi network the 9700 can be set to use this wireless access instead of the 3G or 2G cellular radios. Thus when in wifi range all traffic uses the wifi radio…even voice calling. This is called “UMA” access and its very similar to T-Mobile’s @home service. UMA stands for “Unlicensed Mobile Access.”
I found that calling over wifi/uma has been profoundly useful. I was in New Orleans at a customers location and found that I had no T-Mobile coverage while in their building. Since they had an in-house wifi network all I had to do was connect via wifi and it was as if I had seamless 3G throughout the facility. I took incoming calls and made outgoing calls with no issues at all. Their network was a simple 802.11g type so there wasn’t even any special QoS setup. It just simply worked, and that’s just great.
The same holds true around my home and office. I let the Blackberry use the wifi first and 3G/2G as necessary. This priority is user defined. I find that this makes ‘net access on the phone notably faster, including my Twitter client, Seesmic beta for Blackberry. Like a laptop, you can allow the phone to hold setups for multiple wifi networks so that it’s easy to auto-connect when you come into a wifi zone. The phone came with a pre-installed setup for T-Mobile Hotspots.
Under their prior system of service plans T-Mobile would let you purchase a flat rate Wifi calling plan for an extra $9.95/mo. That meant that calling over UMA did not impact your monthly allocation of minutes. When this past fall they got more aggressive about lowering the cost for the normal monthly plans they also eliminated this option on the new plans.
This new billing model doesn’t especially bother me as I have a healthy monthly allocation of minutes. I find that calling over wifi just gives me some flexibility if I’m in an area where coverage is spotty.
In truth I’ve not been able to optimally take advantage of the UMA capabilities around my home & office over the past month. Back in October our Netgear N type wifi AP died. I’ve not had a chance to replace it as yet, instead I dragged and old Linksys WAP-54G out of a closet and put it back into service temporarily. However, I have it on good authority that Santa Claus has taken pity upon us and will be providing a new Cisco SMB-class N type AP very shortly.
One minor addendum: I’ve since been in a Border’s bookstore where I let the Blackberry 9700 mount their free wifi, not issues at all, not even any web login to worry about.
In a more twisted experiment, I found that I was in a location where my Sprint issued Mifi was working well but T-Mobile had no 3G coverage. I set the 9700 to connect to the Mifi and went right on making calls over the Sprint data network.