Phone at Home

Bad cell reception in your house? A new mobile service allows you to seamlessly place calls on both your cellular network and on any open Wi-Fi hotspot from the same phone

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Bad call reception at home? A new mobile service allows you to seamlessly place calls on both your cellular network and on any open Wi-Fi hotspot

Cellphones, which are supposed to let you call from anywhere, often work worst in your own home; signals can´t penetrate walls as well as they travel urban canyons and the great outdoors. But T-Mobile is hoping to change that, rolling out a service today that allows users to hop on their home Wi-Fi network or any other hotspot to make calls when cell signals are weak.

Called HotSpot@Home, the service uses special dual-mode UMA phones that let you start a call on either connection, depending on which signal is stronger, and then seamlessly switch between Wi-Fi and cellular networks as you move about.

I tried the service last fall, when T-Mobile launched a pilot program in Washington state, and found the â€seamless†part to be lacking: Calls often dropped moving from Wi-Fi to cell, though not vice versa. But when I tested the new national service last week, I often couldn´t even tell when networks changed.

Unlimited domestic U.S. calling over Wi-Fi costs $20 per month for a single phone, which must also have a cellular voice plan of at least $40 per month. For a call to be included in the unlimited plan, you only have to >start< on a Wi-Fi network; you aren´t charged extra if you then roam onto a cell connection.

In my tests, the service dramatically improved indoor coverage, but not using just any wireless router. Wi-Fi drains battery life faster than a cell network, and most Wi-Fi equipment isn´t designed to ensure a good voice connection.

T-Mobile is offering special routers that prioritize voice transmission over other data and reduce nework background chatter to conserve battery life and keep your calls clear while, for example, downloading an album from iTunes on your computer. The router costs nothing ($50 retail, less a $50 mail-in rebate) if you sign up for a two-year contract.

HotSpot@Home currently works with two T-Mobile handsets, the Nokia 6086 [pictured above] and the Samsung T409-each also selling for $50 with a two-year commitment.

If you´d like to cut the landline, or you already have, T-Mobile´s service should fit neatly into your lifestyle and budget.