Purchase, setup and initial usage of T-Mobile's HotSpot @Home Talk Forever home phone service

I posted about the release of T-Mobile`s HotSpot @Home Talk Forever service yesterday and found the service quite compelling for my needs so I visited a local Seattle store and grilled the store manager with my list of questions. They did a great job in answereing my questions and the answers were later confirmed when I spoke with a T-Mobile product manager. Check out my image gallery for photos of the router and retail packaging and then read further below for all the answers to my questions posted yesterday, my first impressions, and why I find the service compelling.

I posted about the release of T-Mobile`s HotSpot @Home Talk Forever service yesterday and found the service quite compelling for my needs so I visited a local Seattle store and grilled the store manager with my list of questions. They did a great job in answering my questions and the answers were later confirmed when I spoke with a T-Mobile product manager. Check out my image gallery for photos of the router and retail packaging and then read further below for all the answers to my questions posted yesterday, my first impressions, and why I find the service compelling.


 Image Gallery:T-Mobile just launched their HotSpot @Home Talk Forever home phone service in two select markets and we are using it right now.  
Image Gallery: T-Mobile HotSpot @Home retail box
 
Image Gallery: My router setup in action
 

Answers to my questions from yesterday:

* Can I trial this service with a given number and then port my existing home phone number if it passes my tests? Yes, you have 14 days (30 in California) to try the service without incurring any cancellation fees. * Can you choose just one or the other of the two HotSpot @Home services if you don't want both services? Yes, the services are targeted for two different types of users, but you can also add both services and use the single new router with SIM card slots. * Since this is a T-Mobile number, if I call home from my T-Mobile cell are these call free since it is essentially T-Mobile to T-Mobile? Yes, the new SIM is an added line for your account and appears just like another phone on your family plan or account so if you have T-Mobile to T-Mobile free calls then you still get them. * What is the cost of the router if I don’t make a 2-year commitment and are there any minimum service commitments? You can purchase the router for US$150 without any obligation or for US$100 (I am pretty sure that is what the rep said) with a one year obligation. * I understand there are some basic phone features included, but what are the specific functions/operations of voicemail (such as can I access my voice mail via the internet, can I have messages email to me, etc?) The voice mail system is the same as the standard T-Mobile voice mail system and at this time there are not advanced features like email/text notifications. * Will adding this service void the grandfathered family text messaging plan I have now (all 4 phones have unlimited text messaging for US$10)? It won't affect it since you are just adding another line and are not changing your plan at all. Experiences may vary, depending on your particular account details and whether or not you are already at the 5 line limit. * Since there is a WiFi router as part of the service, can I also use a VoIP wireless phone too? No, this service is designed to work with your 5.8 GHz home phone. * Can I receive incoming faxes or send faxes with this service? No, you will need a landline for these features. * I heard there are two SIM card slots in the router, what is the second card slot for? You can add two lines, each with a separate SIM, in case you want a home and business line with this service.

And a couple others I asked the product manager: What happens if I use a UMA-enabled Curve with the Home Phone service? Are minutes taken away from my T-Mobile family plan, but with a WiFi connection? Or does the outgoing call appear as if from your T-Mobile Home Phone number? T-Mobile HotSpot @Home Mobile (new service name) is a separate service that works with your UMA-enabled device and serves a different purpose. It is designed to allow you to use your mobile phone, not your home cordless phone, from your home or any other T-Mobile HotSpot.

In-store experience: I have been with T-Mobile for over 5 years and have always had the best customer service on the phone and in the store. The sales rep I had in Seattle, Dana, continued with great service by doing a good job with my many questions and if she didn`t know the answer she didn`t try to fudge it and had the store manager help out. They had to call the activation department and do a bit of education about this new service that is only available in select markets. I was in and out in about 15 minutes, paying US$55 for the new router (with tax). There were no mail-in rebates required or anything, but there will be a US$35 activation fee associated with adding the new line to my account. There will be a 2-year commitment on this SIM, but none of my other 4 lines were affected.

Initial setup: I opened up the retail box, taking photos along the way, and then unplugged my Comcast cable modem. I followed the sequence for connecting the cables and power and everything went well, except that the blue phone LED did not light up and there was no dial tone on my connected home phone. The package comes with a CD and setup wizard for Windows PCs, but I used my MacBook Pro and simply went to http://192.168.0.1 to setup the router. The internet then worked fine on all the computers in my home network.

I then called T-Mobile from my cell and eventually found out that the SIM was never actually activated. I imagine the activation department is a bit confused about these new routers and SIM cards since they are only available in the Seattle and Dallas market and yesterday was launch day. T-Mobile was able to get me activated within about 15 minutes and the blue LED lit up and I was all set and ready to start making and receiving calls.

First impressions of service usage: Since I need to test the service out a bit before making the jump, I am using the T-Mobile number that was assigned to the SIM and if I decide to stick with it then I'll port my existing home number to the SIM. I also just recently purchased a Vtech 5.8 GHz phone system so I did not order the model from T-Mobile (available for US$59.99). I did see that the T-Mobile Vtech phone did have a dedicated Voice mail button, which could be quite convenient.

I made about 10 calls and my wife made about 5 extended calls for her business and so far the system has performed flawlessly. Calls were loud and clear and there was no noticeable difference between this and my landline. With the home phone system plugged into the router, you really won't even know you are using this service. That is, until the monthly bills come in and you find you saved a ton of money.

Landline vs. VoIP: The new router and service uses a SIM card and treats your home phone like another line on your wireless account. This means that voicemail is currently the same experience that you get on your mobile phone and my wife doesn't like this. She wants an old-fashioned message machine, but the one we have is very unreliable and quite annoying at getting the time and data wrong, etc. and I don't think it will be too long before she sees the value in having a seemingly more robust voicemail system. The blue LED on the router does blink when you have a voicemail and then you simply dial 123 to check it. I wonder if some 3rd party voicemail solution could be used to enhance the system or if T-Mobile will roll out a better system for the Talk Forever program. Maybe a voicemail system that sends you a text or email with the voicemail or a notification of the voicemail could be implemented.

My wife is also concerned about voice quality and reliability of the system so I plan to use my full 14-day trial period to see how the system performs. Is it worth it to ditch a landline and save US$27+ per month?

Benefits and reasons to try the service: I pay almost US$53 for my fairly basic land line service that includes Caller ID and call waiting, along with unlimited long distance service. The T-Mobile HotSpot @Home Talk Forever phone service will run about US$12 with taxes. I do have a home alarm system and my wife does need to send and receive faxes from time to time so I would drop down to the US$15 Qwest landline service. This still results in cutting my home phone service in half to US$27. In addition, the majority of the calls I make (along with a large percentage of my wife's calls) are made between our Qwest landline and T-Mobile cell phones. By adding this HotSpot Talk Forever plan all of these calls will now be completely free so I may actually be able to change my family plan subscription and save something like US$30 more per month. I'll evaluate our usage patterns over the next couple of months if we stick with this new service and can then determine if a drop in family time minutes is warranted.

I also saved a few more bucks since I see no reason to fork over another US$300 for a BlackBerry Curve and the HotSpot @Home service. I already get good T-Mobile reception at home and do not make that many calls outside my family plan network so the @Home Mobile service isn't really targeted for my usage patterns.

So far I have very good first impressions of the service offering and performance and think for most people this could really be a sweet deal. I think companies like Qwest may not be too happy though as T-Mobile starts to convert people to their network for almost all of their phone needs. I also heard that the service may be rolling out into other markets in 60 days so keep an eye on T-Mobile if you are outside of Seattle and Dallas.

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