T-Mobile held it's "Uncarrier 7.0" unveiling today - it's next major initiative to change the old rules of the mobile industry.
The last Uncarrier event was "Music Freedom", making cellular data used for streaming music free and unlimited. This time, the theme was "WiFi Unleashed" and it was focused on T-Mobile's plans to fully embrace WiFi calling, turning every WiFi hotspot into the functional equivalent of a T-Mobile cell tower.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere said "this is like adding millions of towers to our network in a single day."
All new phones T-Mobile sells are all now WiFi calling enabled, and will be able to make and receive calls and text messages over any public or private WiFi network you have access to - even allowing for calls to the US while on WiFi traveling internationally.
WiFi calling isn't new (some T-Mobile phones have had support for years) - but one of the biggest downsides in the past has been that leaving WiFi range would result in a dropped call. The bigger news today is that T-Mobile is becoming the first carrier to support seamless handoff of calls between VoLTE (Voice Over LTE) and WiFi and back again, meaning that calls never drop as long as there is some signal of some sort to be had.
This means no more dropped calls when you head down into a basement... Or potentially step into a metal-walled RV.
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T-Mobile also announced that their nationwide VoLTE support now supports handoff to 3G networks when you leave LTE coverage too. This is something Verizon's fledgling VoLTE is not capable of yet.
Though every current T-Mobile phone supports WiFi calls now, the new iPhone 6 will be the first to support this seamless WiFi handoff feature. Other phone models will be getting this feature later this year.
Other T-Mobile "WiFi Unleashed" News
In addition to the WiFi calling and VoLTE handoff updates, T-Mobile announced two other WiFi related initiatives.
- Free In Flight Texting / Voicemail Access - T-Mobile announced a partnership with Gogo which provides WiFi service on 75% of domestic flights to give compatible T-Mobile phones unlimited free texting (including picture and video messages) and voicemail access while in flight. A very useful tool for planning airport pickups.
- T-Mobile Personal CellSpot - To help people get WiFi calling coverage into their basements, T-Mobile is offering every customer with a Simple Choice plan a free high-end 802.11ac home WiFi router, with built in features to prioritize voice calls so that movie streaming and other net traffic does not interfere with calls. This router though isn't a gift - you need to return it to T-Mobile if you ever cancel service. And it isn't actually a cellular device - it doesn't actually extend T-Mobile's LTE network, it just replaces your current home router with a model that for most people will be a substantial speed and range upgrade, and which is especially tuned to work well with WiFi calling compatible devices. Overall a great deal for T-Mobile customers, but not particularly useful for RV use.
WiFi Calling - Useful For Nomads?
WiFi calling is great for most T-Mobile customers, but nomads relying on a WiFi provided by a mobile hotspot need to be careful.
If your T-Mobile phone has access to your mobile hotspot, it will use up your cellular data for voice calls rather than using T-Mobile's voice network for free. This is great in areas where you don't have any T-Mobile coverage, but you should only turn on WiFi explicitly when you need it, otherwise all your T-Mobile traffic may end up routed through your Millenicom hotspot!
Overall though - these WiFi initiatives do make T-Mobile even more appealing as a backup mobile internet connection to a primary line on Verizon or AT&T. We really love what T-Mobile has been up to overall.
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T-Mobile Cellular Network Update
Today's news wasn't just about WiFi - T-Mobile also gave an update on how their LTE network deployment has been going.
T-Mobile announced that they now have "Wideband LTE" enabled in 17 markets, and will have 25 or 26 covered by the end of the year. In these Wideband LTE areas, T-Mobile has doubled peak speeds and overall LTE capacity. They claimed that they have even seen LTE speeds as fast as 150Mbps.
Overall T-Mobile was very proud of having the fastest LTE network in the country, and having more available data capacity per customer. They say that they are on track to surpass Sprint and become the #3 carrier by the end of the year.
Now they just need to work on better coverage, and maybe in a year or two they will be in a position to rival AT&T and Verizon as a primary connection choice!