Here’s the basic idea. If you’re willing to pay $10 a month on top of a regular T-Mobile voice plan, you get a special cellphone. When you’re out and about, it works like any other phone; calls eat up your monthly minutes as usual.
But when it’s in a Wi-Fi wireless Internet hot spot, this phone offers a huge bargain: all your calls are free. You use it and dial it the same as always — you still get call hold, caller ID, three-way calling and all the other features — but now your voice is carried by the Internet rather than the cellular airwaves.
There’s one big limitation to all this freeness: these phones can’t get onto any hot spot that require you to log in on a Web page (to enter a credit card number, for example). Unfortunately, this restriction rules out most airports and many hotel rooms.
There’s one exception — or, rather, 8,500 of them: T-Mobile’s archipelago of hot spots at Starbucks, Borders and other public places. In these places you encounter neither the fee nor the Web-page sign-in that you would encounter if you were using a laptop; the words “T-Mobile Hot Spot” simply appear at the top of your screen, and you can start making free calls.
Hmmmm looks like a nice way to get more people in Starbucks
T-Mobile’s billing system isn’t smart enough to notice handoffs between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. So each call is billed according to where it begins. You can start a call at home, get in your car, drive away and talk for free until the battery’s dead.
The opposite is also true, however; if you begin a call on T-Mobile’s cell network and later enter a Wi-Fi hot spot, the call continues to eat up minutes. If HotSpot @Home catches on, therefore, the airwaves will reverberate with people coming home and saying, “Hey, can I call you right back?”
That's kinda a bummer in a way...
At the moment, you have a choice of only two phones: the Nokia 6086 and Samsung t409. Both of these are small basic flip phones (both $50 after rebate and with two-year commitment). They sound terrific; over Wi-Fi, in fact, they produce the best-sounding cellphone calls you’ve ever made. But the screens are small and coarse, and the features limited. Fortunately, T-Mobile intends to bring the HotSpot @Home feature to many other phones in the coming months.
The Wi-Fi sucks power, too; these phones get 6.5 hours of talk time on the cell network, but only 4 hours over Wi-Fi.
That'll change if HotSpot @Home catches on. People will want to have their iTunes, email, and calls all in one package.