I just read an interesting piece in the Orlando Sentinel (via Techmeme) about voice over WiFi and other solutions to spotty cell phone coverage in the home, office, and other environments where signal strength can be anywhere from intermittent to nonexistent. My pal Andy Abramson weighs in with his thoughts at VoIP Watch on how the cell network operators have fumbled the ball on creating this convergence. In typical, no-holds-barred fashion, he writes:
The bottom line is not one USA carrier (other than T-Mobile) with so much to gain, and really nothing to lose, has taken an "embrace the future" approach about WiFi, and instead, through their actions continued to move us all back to 1984 and the pre-divestiture era of monopoly.
The good news is that T-Mobile is, according to the Sentinel article, planning to roll out HotSpot@home (or UMA – Unlicensed Mobile Access) to allow this switching – perhaps as early as year's end. Other ideas are also in various stages of development.
The bad news, as the article points out, is that WiFi does tend to take a drmatic toll of battery life. I've seen this on both the Nokia N93 and N95, the two dual-band mobile devices I've had an extended opportunity to use. Also, the number of dual-band phones out there today represents a tiny percentage of the market. But hey... there's a reason for the operators to convince us mobile folks we need to upgrade and extend our indentured servitude by another year or two.
Having used TruPhone, Gizmo, and Fring on the Nokia devices, I can attest to the fact that calls made using these services over WiFi sound every bit as good (and often better) than calls placed on the cellular network. I've been able ot make WiFi pretty ubiquitous in my day-to-day life (home, office, and a number of cafes and public locations offering free WiFi). As long as I have a spare battery and/or charger in my bag (which I pretty much always do – as well as charger in my car), I'm prepared to deal with the power consumption issues.
But it is time for the network operators to figure out a forward-looking strategy. Divide and conquer ain't going to cut it.