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T-Mobile HotSpot @Home Review

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Jun 26, 2007, 11:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Phone Scoop's In Depth review of T-Mobile's new HotSpot @Home service, plus video demo.



This is Phone Scoop's in-depth look at the new HotSpot@Home service from T-Mobile, which goes live today. The service lets users roam between cellular and Wi-Fi networks seamlessly for calling. Do two radios make for a better cell phone?


HotSpot@Home uses a technology called Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) to allow phones to make calls over Wi-Fi networks. Combining UMA with traditional cellular telephony (GSM or CDMA) in one handset, and you have a dual-mode phone that can roam between cellular and Wi-Fi networks. When in supported, open Wi-Fi coverage, the connection uses the Internet to reach the carrier's switching systems to route the call. If no Wi-Fi networks are available, the call goes through the cellular network as normal.

When at home or the office the phone makes all calls via the Wi-Fi connection, no matter how strong cell coverage may be. If you originate a call at your house/office and then leave your house/office, the phone will automatically and seamlessly switch the call from the Wi-Fi network to the regular cellular network. And vice versa: if you originate a standard cell call while out and about, then return home, the call will automatically transfer from the cellular network back to the Wi-Fi network.

This benefits us, the users, in a few ways. When calls take place over the Wi-Fi networks, they are not counted against monthly minute allotments; users simply pay a small flat rate per month for Wi-Fi calls. Also, if the user happens to live or work in an area with poor network coverage, Wi-Fi can provide enhanced localized coverage. The technology also benefits the network operators, who can free up space on their cellular networks when calls are placed over the Wi-Fi networks. This reduces their costs as well as helps provide more bandwidth to reduce the number of times users see the dreaded "network busy" message.

Setting Up 

While all this technology might sound complicated, in practice, it could not have been easier to use. We received a review unit (a Nokia 6086) and D-Link Wi-Fi router from T-Mobile. T-Mobile suggests that subscribers use its branded routers for optimal performance, but it will also work on existing unlocked Wi-Fi networks, as well as all T-Mobile HotSpots such as those in Starbucks and Borders.

We unboxed the router and plugged it into our home network. We already have a regular Wi-Fi router, so this meant we had two Wi-Fi networks up and running. Once we turned on the phone, it automatically connected to the T-Mobile HotSpot without us having to configure the phone or make any adjustments. This was all the set up required: plugging in the router and turning on the phone. It doesn't get much easier than that.


First Experiences 

After we had the system up and running, we immediately made a phone call. The first call we made from within the T-Mobile HotSpot was perfectly clear, and there was absolutely no discernible difference between the call placed over Wi-Fi and calls later placed from the cellular network.

After making several calls from the T-Mobile HotSpot, we went into the phone's settings to see what we could adjust. There is no hard key to turn the Wi-Fi on or off, it is only controlled via software in the settings menu. Once inside the Wi-Fi manager program, there are a number of applications: Available Networks, Saved Networks, Quick Connect, Wi-Fi Radio On/Off, Get Security Key, Add to Saved Networks, and Help.

Hitting the "Available Networks" key forces the phone to actively scan for Wi-Fi networks. This took only about 4 seconds, and it showed a list of all the available networks. The T-Mobile HotSpot network was listed at the top, and had a check mark next to it to let us know that we were connected to that network. It also listed our home network, as well as 4 other networks trickling in from neighboring homes. Using the menus, we were able to actively change which network the 6086 connected to. As long as the networks were unlocked, the phone connected easily. Our home network has an encryption key. When we attempted to connect to the home network, it requested the key. After entering the key, it connected and asked if we wanted to remember the passkey. From then on, the network was saved in our Saved Networks folder and the phone connected automatically to it without having to re-enter the passkey.

The "Saved Networks" folder is simply a list of networks the phone has connected to and the Quick Connect function allows you to pre-set which networks to connect to first. The Wi-Fi Radio On/Off is the software switch for the Wi-Fi radio. Using all these functions was relatively intuitive, as the number of choices within each is limited to one or two.


Just to see what sort of cellular network coverage T-Mobile offers in our testing site, we turned off the Wi-Fi radio. The Nokia 6086 uses two different radio strength indicators to let you know which type of network you are connected to and how good the connection is. In standard cellular networks, the signal indicator appears as normal, antenna with ascending bars next to it. In Wi-Fi coverage, the antenna turns into a little reddish/orange ball, with radio signals emanating outward from it. Once the Wi-Fi radio was switched off, the standard signal indicator appeared with 5 bars of coverage almost immediately. Switching the Wi-Fi radio back on, we had to wait about 15-20 seconds for the phone to reacquire the network. After it did, the orange ball and radio signals appeared in the signal strength indicator spot.


Using It

Out In the Real World 

After these initial tests and set-up tasks were completed, we took the T-Mobile HotSpot@Home service for a real work out. Placing a call from my home, I walked outside and away from my house. I got about 20 feet down the road before the Wi-Fi signal dropped off and the call switched over to the cellular network. The call was clear during both the Wi-Fi and cellular portions of this call and the transfer was seamless. I then turned around and returned to my house. The 6086 didn't reconnect to the Wi-Fi network until after I walked inside, and upstairs to my office, where the router was located. We repeated this test several times and the result was the same each time.

Then I packed up and drove to a nearby Borders that has a T-Mobile HotSpot inside. From the parking lot, I initiated a cell call and then walked into the Borders and to the cafe, where the HotSpot is located. The phone took a solid 30 seconds to figure out that it was inside a HotSpot and transfer the call to the Wi-Fi network. In this exercise, the call placed on the cellular network was slightly crackly, and then cleared up once inside the HotSpot. When I walked away from the cafe and back outside, the call transferred back to the cellular network with no issues. Call quality of the Wi-Fi portion of the call was good.

We repeated this basic test again at a Starbucks with a T-Mobile HotSpot. This call was our first snag. The call connected fine via the cellular network outside, and again took about 20 seconds to recognize and connect to the Wi-Fi network inside the Starbucks. Upon leaving this network however, we had a problem with the handoff. The Wi-Fi signal dwindled down to one bar as we walked away from the Starbucks and rather than handoff the call to the cell network, it dropped the call. What was strange was that when I attempted to re-dial the number, I couldn't get through. On the other end, the person I called still had an open call, so the switch was still open and active, and the Nokia on my end wasn't able to reconnect with the circuit open. In the end, we had to power the phone down and back up to reset it. Also, the call clarity was poor on the cellular network at this location, and our callee reported an improvement in clarity once the phone switched to the Wi-Fi network.

We repeated this same test again at a variety of Starbucks HotSpots in New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan with good success.



Though the Nokia and T-Mobile literature both say the 6086 has 5 hours of talk time, we noticed that the battery went from a 50% charge to almost empty during the course of these tests. The tests were conducted over he course of several hours, but the sum total of the actual calling time during the testing was less than 30 minutes. So, either the battery life isn't quite up to par with the literature, or the battery life indicator is not accurate. Standby battery life was at least 4 days with both the cellular and Wi-Fi radios on.

Signal Strength

Wi-Fi signal strength depending on a number of factors, the most important of which was the distance between the phone and the router. Also, the presence of walls also cut down on signal. Walking around my house, Wi-Fi coverage ranged from 1 bar to 4 bars, depending on where I was.

Even when in strong Wi-Fi coverage, data calls to T-Mobile's T-Zones still went through the cellular network. The boxed "G" icon showed up in the status bar to let us know the data call was connected. So the T-Mobile HotSpot@Home service does not allow you to connect to the Internet via the Wi-Fi network. It is reserved for phone calls only.


In order for the service to work, you have to have a plan, a phone, and a router. The HotSpot@Home service is available for $19.99 per month for individuals and $29.99 per month for families. The service will be on sale for a limited time at $9.99 per month for individuals and $19.99 per month for families. To start, only two phones will work with the service, the Nokia 6086 and the Samsung t409. Both of these are basic feature phones. T-Mobile subscribers who have devices such as the Wing will not be able to use the embedded Wi-Fi radios in their existing devices to access the service. Both the 6086 and t409 retail for $49.99 after rebates with two-year agreement. The T-Mobile-branded routers are also $49.99, but are free after a mail-in rebate.


In our video review of HotSpot @Home, you can see how the phone hands off calls from the Wi-Fi network to the cellular network and back again. You can watch it here:

Or you can visit YouTube for more sharing options.

Wrap Up 

Though there were a few small hiccups in our testing, the HotSpot @Home service generally worked well. It was very simple to set up and T-Mobile has made it a no-brainer for the average, non-techie consumer to buy and use this product off the shelf. That only two handsets work with the service is a bit limiting, but we expect T-Mobile to add to the number of dual-mode handsets capable of using this service over time (hopefully that will include some smartphones). For heavy talkers, especially those in poor network coverage areas, HotSpot @Home offers solid in-house coverage and a cheaper alternative to large voice plans.

view article organized across multiple pages

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.



This forum is closed.

This forum is closed.


Jun 27, 2007, 9:27 AM

T-Mobile HotSpot@Home Data connection

One comment in your video is not correct. When using T-Zones the data connection is actually using the WiFi connection too (the EDGE icon on the display is showing you have a data connection to the network and not the type of conection). When on WiFi ALL the cellular services go through WiFi... (SMS, MMS, Calling etc.) Did you notice it was faster?
I have it straight from T-Mobile that the data connection is still through the EDGE network and NOT the Wi-FI.

Jun 27, 2007, 10:33 AM

are the minutes prorated?

So i guess i'm concerned if this is going to work as the nights work. For example in nights if a call starts at 8:59 and you talk for 15 minutes, because the call started before 9 you WILL get charge the full 15 minutes from your day minutes... So what if you are ON the network and jump into a wifi network... how is t mobile going to charge that?? do the calls that switch from one network to the other count??? or are THOSE calls gong to be bill if you initiated the call on Tmobile's cell network?.... i wonder....
whatever network you are on when you begin the call is the network the call is credited to, so if you are on the tower network, the entire call is credited to that network, so yes, the entire call would be charged under your wenever minutes. on the ot...

Jul 5, 2007, 5:13 AM

Subscription Required ?

If I already have a home wifi router, do I still have to pay a monthly fee to T-Mobile for UMA? The article indicates it is possible to select an existing wi-fi connection from available networks but it is unclear as to whether there is a fee to pay. Is it also possible to connect to a wifi hotspot elsewhere that is not T-Mobile??
rgronenb said:
If I already have a home wifi router, do I still have to pay a monthly fee to T-Mobile for UMA?

No, you don't have to pay extra for UMA usage. You can use your existing router as well. You do, however...

Jun 27, 2007, 8:14 AM

dumb question

I'm sure this is a stupid question but what exactly is the point of this?
For people who don't have cell coverage in their homes, this provides it.
I am guessing that they are also creeping into VOIP arena with this. Not a bad move on T-mobiles part. One phone for all your needs. One number for both your home and cell phone.
wirelessjunkie said:
I'm sure this is a stupid question but what exactly is the point of this?

What's the point? Seriously? Have you ever had poor coverage at home? This eliminates that. You ever wanted unlimite...

Jun 30, 2007, 2:18 PM

low long promotion will last?

1. Does anyone know how long the $10/20 promotional rate will last?
2. It would be nice if there were sexier phones available in the very near future. Any rumors?
3. I'd love a 1-year contact. It seems like this service is not yet available through resellers like letstalk with 1-year contracts.

The promotion will last through the middle of September. I was told this by tmo customer service.

Rep in store said eventually most new phones will have it like they do with myfaves.

Jun 30, 2007, 12:52 PM

Why This Is A Great Idea For T-Mobile's Pockets

Now granted, this will actually provide a SERVICE to those with poor service in their homes, or to those who truly are holding back on their talking while home due to minute contsraints. For your average user...here is why it makes perfect sense to T-Mobile:

You have to be a min 39.99 rate plan which gives you 600 min.

You have to add $20 (Yes I know about the intro rate...even at $10 they get you) to get access to the unlim calling wi-fi option.

That would actually put your bill at $59.99...which on the regular T-mobile plans gives you 1500 Anytime.

They are counting on you NOT using more than 900 Additional minutes at home.
My T-mobile rep told me it can be used on any plan, which would inculde the 29.99 plan. They are saving money, because it really wont cost them anything to have people talk voIP, which is why the @home plan has unlimited usage.

And for the people w...
First of all the service is $10. You will be able to purchase at that price through September. And if you get it at that price it stays at that price as long you keep it. Secondly I have a small business. I have an office downtown and one in my home. ...

Jun 27, 2007, 9:34 AM

Wi-Fi Security Options?

What sort of Wi-Fi security options do the phones support? WEP, WPA, WPA2?
Wi-Fi security uses either WEP or WPA I believe. I _know_ WPA2 is not supported.
Also, the connection from the phone to t-mobile is an IPSec VPN connection, so even on an open hotspot the call is still secure.

Jun 27, 2007, 12:19 PM

How does 9-1-1 work on the wi-fi part?

I know with other VOIP providers, you have to enter you address for 9-1-1. Do you have to do that for the wi-fi part of this system (since it is essentially a VOIP system).
The user will have to register a 911 address with T-Mobile via My.T-Mobile.com or Customer Care.

Jun 27, 2007, 1:49 PM

International? (Question for the Eric's or Rich)

Will this feature work in Wi-Fi spots internationally? Say in Europe? And if so, since your not being charged for minutes used over Wi-Fi connections (if I understood your review correctly) would'nt you technically be able (to a certain extent) roam internationally free of charge?
😁 The answer is that because it's internet, it doesn't matter where you are! If you have a wi-fi access point abroad, and someone here calls your local TMO number, it finds you and not only is it unlimited for you, but free for your friends/family t...
I am a rep at a corporate store, and due to my excitement for this service, I have asked a lot of questions like this, and here is the answer:

According to the Hotspot@home Launch binder that we received, calls made internationally through a router...

Jul 1, 2007, 2:31 PM

International Rates?

VoIP services like Vonage have very low international rates. What would the international rates be for such calls originating in the USA over WiFi under H@H?
They are the same because the call isn't VoIP, its GSMoIP, basically its just a different interface to the normal t-mobile network.
But ya, t-mo's international rates are the same weather or not you are using wifi

Jun 27, 2007, 12:14 AM

What was that buzz sound?

When you walked from outside to inside, does it buzz when switching from a cellular signal to wifi?
The buzzing sound you heard was standard GSM interference. Hold any GSM cell phone that is on an active call next to almost any electronic device with speakers or a microphone and you will hear it.

I first discovered it when I switched from Sprint ...
No, all switches were completely seamless. There was no way to tell that the call switched other than to see the difference in the signal indicator. That sounds was my BlackBerry interfering with my videocamera.
gunny said:
When you walked from outside to inside, does it buzz when switching from a cellular signal to wifi?

This link is good in reference to your question: www.feelingcingular.com. T-Mobile and PlayStation 3 ar...

Jun 27, 2007, 3:28 PM


So does this mean that if your connected on Wifi that you SMS messages will go through Wifi? Thanks.
Nope, Texting along with internet usage will jump off the hotspot and onto the network...

Jun 27, 2007, 10:22 PM

Other phones?

What other phones can you use for this? Can you use unlocked phones with wife like the Nokia N90 series?
No. It needs to support UMA - which very few phones do - and I'm pretty sure it needs to be a T-Mobile UMA phone specifically.

Note that Wi-Fi is different from UMA. Most phones with wi-fi do not support UMA.

Jun 29, 2007, 5:42 AM

who is providing the GANC for UMA Call to T-Mobile

In the UMA Rove in and Rove out using Nokia's mobile ur able to handover to UMA and GSM both
who is providing that GANC to T-Mobile

Jun 27, 2007, 12:11 AM


I know you are 🤣

Jun 27, 2007, 7:44 AM

Looks Muy Cool

I'm definitely not a T-Mobile fan boy, but this sounds like a great idea. It seams to work really well and would be a no brainier for families that have big talkers. This could be a real solution for people who want to get rid of their home phone service, and a reasonable work around for people who have poor coverage in their homes. But one question that either wasn't answered or I missed, How does this service effect data speeds?
At the moment, there is no data side to the Hotspot for home. It is strictly for making calls so if there in no reception in your house without Hotspot then you wont have a data connection, you must have missed it in there he mentioned alittle bit abo...
Data speeds of the home network, or data speeds of the phone connecting to T-Zones?

I didn't notice any detrimental change in my home broadband network when using the phone.

Since this service is for voice calls only, it will NOT effect data sp...
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