T-Mobile USA plans to announce Wednesday that its new @Home voice service will be available nationwide starting July 2.
The cell phone operator has been testing the new Internet telephony service since February in Dallas and Seattle. And now the new service, which is meant to replace traditional home phones, will be offered to any T-Mobile cell phone customer.
Subscribers will be able to connect any regular home telephone to a T-Mobile router that will send calls over the Internet much the same way as services like Vonage operate. The service costs $10 a month plus taxes and fees for unlimited domestic local and long-distance calls.
Only T-Mobile wireless customers who subscribe to at least a $39.99 individual calling plan or families subscribing to at least the $49.99 monthly T-Mobile calling plan can get the service. The @Home service also requires that users subscribe to a separate broadband service from a cable operator or telecom provider. And they are required to use a special T-Mobile router, which also provides Wi-Fi Internet access throughout the home.
This router can also be used to provide T-Mobile's HotSpot @Home phone service. This service, launched last year, allows T-Mobile subscribers to use dual-mode cellular and Wi-Fi phones that switch between both networks. When subscribers are near their home Wi-Fi hot spot, they use the broadband network to make unlimited domestic calls. And when they are outside the home, the phone seamlessly switches to T-Mobile's cellular network.
The service, which also costs $10 extra per month, serves two purposes. It helps provide better in-home cell phone coverage and also helps reduce the number of minutes used on the T-Mobile cellular network.
Britt Wehrman, director of product development for T-Mobile says the service, which launched a little over a year ago, has been a big success. The company hasn't disclosed subscriber numbers for the service, but Wehrman said that 45 percent of the hot-spot customers are leaving competitors to get the T-Mobile service. T-Mobile currently has eight dual-mode handsets that work with the service, two of which were announced earlier this week. And it has four more to announce by the end of the year, bringing the total to 12 dual-mode handsets.
The @Home VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service is meant to work with the hot-spot phone service, Wehrman said. When the hot-spot service was first introduced, the company found that families were interested in the plan. But they weren't willing to cut the cord on their home phones.
"The hot-spot service offers parents a good way to limit overage charges, because the kids can talk on their cell phones while they're at home without eating up minutes," he said. "But we found that many families didn't want to get rid of their traditional phones. They still wanted one phone in the house for the whole family."
So the @Home VoIP service was created to give families who don't want to get rid of their traditional landlines a low-cost option for retaining that line while still using the hot-spot service. To ensure that E911 service works with the VoIP service, T-Mobile is requiring all users to register their home address before service can be activated.
But because it is an Internet-based phone service that is dependent upon a broadband modem for connectivity, families will still have to consider the risks of power outages and Internet interruptions that will make the VoIP service and E911 unavailable during those outages. But Wehrman said that the fact that T-Mobile requires that subscribers of the @Home service also have a T-Mobile cell phone subscription limits the safety concerns.