T-Mobile bans VoIP from super-3G service

Observers doubt the policy is sustainable - meaning T-Mobile may be planning its own VoIP client

T-Mobile UK has announced a flat-rate version of its data tariff, aimed primarily at business users.

The release of Web'n'Walk Professional coincides with the introduction of a new data card, which will take advantage of T-Mobile's upcoming next-generation 3G service.

Not only is it the first HSDPA-enabled data card to be offered by a major network in the UK, but it's also quad-band and has integrated Wi-Fi. T-Mobile is currently offering the card with a voucher that allows free use of its Wi-Fi hotspots for 12 months.

The company's HSDPA trials are currently in their internal phase, with no set date as yet for external trials. The service is expected to be rolled out in late summer, with its coverage mirroring the mainly metropolitan footprint of the provider's current 3G network.

"We're trying to focus on where we already have 3G coverage, to build strong in-building coverage," Rob Langton, T-Mobile UK's data marketing manager, told ZDNet UK.

T-Mobile anticipates that the first phase of HSDPA will see consistent speeds of around 1Mbps with the possibility of 1.8Mbps, but hopes for speeds of over 7Mbps by the end of 2007.

Such high speeds would seem to make the new data card ideal for applications such as Internet telephony and instant messaging. However, the fine print for Web'n'Walk Pro reveals that these are explicitly banned by T-Mobile, and any user caught running the applications risks expulsion from the network.

"It's a commercial decision that we took," admitted Langton. "We charge two and a half times less than our competition. We're aiming at the business network. We spoke to our customers and it's not key to them," he told ZDNet UK last week.

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However, Langton didn't rule out the possibility of an eventual solution that avoids losing out to third-party clients. "If we find customers are coming to us and saying that they want messaging, well, T-Mobile is not about to tell them they'll never be allowed to message," he said, adding, "It might be a T-Mobile client."

Tony Lock, chief analyst at Bloor Research, believes that the launch of a T-Mobile VoIP client is a possibility.

"T-Mobile has its own VoIP solution that I suspect it'll be bringing out," he told ZDNet UK on Monday.

Lock cast doubt on the sustainable viability of a mobile operator banning VoIP from its network. "I think that eventually, if there's customer demand for this, it will happen," Lock said. "Other organisations will come along allowing VoIP. Who do you think is going to win?"

Philip Hale of AOL, which provides both VoIP and IM services, acknowledged that T-Mobile is being "straightforward" about their conditions, but warned that "if IM is a key factor for a customer, then [we] would expect them not to choose this service".

The Web'n'Walk data card is free with a new 18- or 24-month contract, £50 on a new 12-month contract and £170 SIM-free through T-Mobile itself. Existing customers with an older 3G card can upgrade to the new technology and tariff for £99.

Using the data card on the Web'n'Walk tariff will cost £17 + VAT per month, while simply adding the data service to the voice tariff on an HSDPA-enabled phone will cost £8.50 + VAT per month.