Making Yourself @Home
The Good: Crystal-clear call quality at a great price
The Bad: Missing key features, such as voice-mail notifications via e-mail; international calling is costly
The Bottom Line: Reliable, high-quality home calling for existing or future T-Mobile USA wireless customers who don't need every phone feature
T-Mobile USA is breaking new ground. On July 2, the U.S. wireless calling division of Germany's Deutsche Telekom (DT) is introducing home-phone calling for as low as $10 a month, a fraction of the price charged by traditional phone companies including AT&T (T) and Internet-calling providers such as Vonage (VG). Analysts have said T-Mobile's @Home is really targeted at users of rival wireless calling services (BusinessWeek.com, 6/25/08).
Watch out, Verizon Wireless. I've tested @Home, and I'm impressed with the results. Akin to an Internet calling service, T-Mobile @Home routes calls via a home broadband connection. The service is available for $10 a month to T-Mobile subscribers who are already paying at least $40 a month for their wireless calls. The necessary Wi-Fi router costs $50 for customers who sign a two-year contract; otherwise it's $150. (And remember that you'll still need a high-speed Internet connection.)
What You Get
That monthly 10 bucks goes a long way. Besides unlimited local and long-distance calling, you also get voice mail, call forwarding, three-way conference calling, call waiting, and&mdash:for phones with displays&mdash:caller ID. The service also keeps a log of calls made and received on your My T-Mobile Web page, where wireless customers also can check balances and pay bills.
There's other convenient overlap with T-Mobile wireless calling. The same number works for checking voice mail (123), and T-Mobile puts home and wireless calling on the same bill. (For an extra $10 a month, the service also lets you make unlimited cell-phone calls from home.)
Router set-up is a snap, too. Slide a CD into your computer for step-by-step instructions on connecting the device both to your home broadband and to a landline. I was done in 10 minutes flat, a personal best. Installing Web-calling services is often nettlesome and can take hours, involving calls to customer service.
Best of all, I found call quality crystal-clear&mdash:as good, if not better, than the landline service I get from Verizon (VZ). I detected none of the noise or echoes typically present on Web-calling services. And to betray a personal preference, I was also pleased to hear a dial tone. Many Web-calling services emit fancy sounds designed to remind you this isn't your traditional landline.
What You Don't
For all its advantages, @Home is not without some drawbacks, especially for those who make frequent international calls. T-Mobile's @Home international rates are the same as when dialing from a mobile&mdash:though T-Mobile does offer calling to Mexico and Canada for an additional $5 a month, plus 7¢ to 9¢ a minute, depending on the country.
And unlike most Web-calling services, T-Mobile @Home won't send you e-mail notifications of new voice mail or let you listen to voice mail over the Web. Some basic services are clunky. To change the length of time your phone rings before voice mail picks up (the default is 25 seconds), you have to call T-Mobile's customer-care line. Why not let users make such adjustments online?
Finally, users may encounter hiccups when calling emergency services away from home. Conveniently, you can take your T-Mobile router with you if you want to receive home-phone calls on the road. The trouble is, the router remains registered to your home address. If you dial 911 in an emergency, you'll be connected to an emergency response center in your home town. To avoid this pitfall, you'll need to contact T-Mobile to let them know when you'll be in a different locale. Some other services prompt you to update your location when you place the call.
I'm hopeful T-Mobile will address these shortcomings in future iterations of its @Home service. Until then, however, they remain minor quibbles with an otherwise reliable service that's packed with features and easy on the pocketbook.