T-Mobile Hotspot@Home Review

My back porch: a hotspot!

I live on a quiet street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I’m definitely not out in the country nor are there any tall buildings around that could potentially mess with my cellphone signal. Yet when a T-Mobile rep came by the house last summer, he found that I have no service in my front vestibule — yeah, I got a vestibule, what of it? — and just a few bars, to use the scientific term, in the living room. Don’t even ask about the basement. I remedied this situation with a Wi-Ex Cellular Extender, but it wasn’t until today that I finally saw light at the end of the tunnel.

T-Mobile’s Hotspot @ Home is almost a dream come true for folks with poor cellphone reception in the home or off. The service, which costs $19.99 a month for a single line or $24.99 a month for family plans, offers unlimited calling in the US when you are on a T-Mobile or other WiFi hotspot to which you have access. The service comes with either a Linksys or D-Link router — both are approximately the same — that are specially tweaked for Hotspot @ Home’s UMA service.

The service currently supports two phones, the Samsung t409 and the Nokia 6086. I received the 6086 and I can honestly state that it was not my dream phone. It has a VGA camera, EDGE, Bluetooth, and a music player, along with AIM and Internet access and it is quite small. Generally, however, it is a “Meh” phone and I’ll be very excited when and if T-Mobile rolls out support for other WiFi-enabled phones like the Wing or the Dash. Oh well. A girl can dream. This is the only issue I had with the service. Seriously. I just didn’t like the phone.

So what happens when you turn on the phone? It begins to look for open hotspots and if it finds one that it is already connected to, it connects automatically and the hotspot name appears on the screen. That’s it. Now all of your calls, whether it’s a T-Mobile router or not, are routed through WiFi. The call quality, especially in an odd dead zone like mine, is fantastic. It doesn’t sound metallic, as you’d expect from VoIP. Instead, the voice tones are slightly muted and softer without the rasp of regular cell calls. It’s almost like going from landline to Skype — try it. You’ll be amazed at the difference.

The router can be used as a regular WiFi router in the home with no effect on call quality. The phone battery lasted about two days on one charge, an impressive feat for something that has to ping WiFi with any regularity.

In my testing the voice never dropped out using the T-Mo router. I had no trouble using it with my Airport Extreme and the hand-over was seamless — I could walk out the door and down the street and the phone would swap over to cellular with nary a whisper.
T-Mobile is offering the service for $9.99/$19.99 per month, depending on the plan, and, unfortunately, the deal will probably lost in the din of the iPhone this week. Luckily, T-Mobile employees will receive a special handbook that teaches them how to spot badcellularitis, a problem that can strike anyone at any time. Do you have poor reception at home? Are you frustrated with your current cellular provider? Do you live in an area that might have lower coverage due to heavy foliage, shrubbery, or the ruins of an ancient civilization blocking cell towers? Ask your doctor about Hotspot@Home.