T-Mobile USA to sell Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones that roam from cellular to Wi-Fi networks

The Wall Street Journal reports that T-Mobile USA plans to sell Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones starting this summer. The goal is to allow people to make calls and transfer data using their Wi-Fi networks at home, in the office or in a cafe, but via a mobile phone. Perfect for places that have poor cellular connectivity. The Wall Street Journal reports that T-Mobile USA plans to sell Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones starting this summer. The goal is to allow people to make calls and transfer data using their Wi-Fi networks at home, in the office or in a cafe, but via a mobile phone. Perfect for places that have poor cellular connectivity.

Initially, T-Mobile’s service (called Hotspot at Home) will use Nokia and Samsung phones. The WSJ article also says that T-Mobile has solved the Wi-Fi to cellular handoff, making it much easier for people to stay on a cellular call then hand off seamlessly to a Wi-Fi network when the cellular signal weakens and disappears as it is prone to do in many US cities (I have written extensively about poor mobile phone service in US cities). I have a T-Mobile prepaid subscription in the US and I can barely get a signal inside an apartment in the Castro District in San Francisco, where I stayed two years ago.

The T-Mobile plan will encourage more people to buy Wi-Fi enabled phones such as the Nokia N80i. It’s impossible to walk around with a laptop and take full advantage of a municipal Wi-Fi network but with a Wi-Fi enabled phone or tablet (such as the Nokia N800), people will finally have Internet access everywhere and see the value of these networks.

My only concern about T-Mobile’s plan is lockdown. Will T-Mobile make it difficult for its subscribers to use any Wi-Fi network they want even if there is a T-Mobile hotspot in the vicinity? People want to choose their own networks, as well as the applications that run on their phones. Cellular carriers are notorious for locking down phones and stripping them of features like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

One example of carrier lockdown is France Telecom’s “Unik” service launched in October 2006. In an earlier post, I wrote: France Telecom (FT) will launch its “Unik” GSM/Wi-Fi phones (on October 5) which allow FT customers to make calls on mobile and Wi-Fi networks. Neuf Telecom has a similar service called Twin already operating in France. The “Unik” phones will connect automatically to the user’s Wi-Fi network when she is at home but outside the vicinity of the Wi-Fi network, it will use Orange’s mobile network. Unfortunately, the user has to buy the Livebox broadband decoder from FT . . .

At least T-Mobile allows you to use your own router.

Neuf Cegetel has also been offering a Wi-Fi/GSM service in France since June 2006. CanardWifi has more on the Neuf Twin offer.

Here’s an interesting statistic: thirty percent of mobile calls in France are made from the home. If it’s the same (or more) in the US, then T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi/cellular service may be on target.