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BT will offer handsets from four makers that use Wi-Fi for VoIP: This is a big push for BT’s Fusion service, which currently uses Bluetooth to hook into a BT broadband feed in the home. BT said that Wi-Fi was previously too expensive. Most of the 20 handsets they will offer will include 3G support.
The new services runs £49 for 4,000 minutes of Wi-Fi, 75 MB of cell data per month: BT Datazone works at 7,800 BT Openzone hotspots and on GPRS and 3G networks. The Register article says the service will work worldwide on 30,000 hotspots. No note about roaming charges, however, if any, and there’s no information on BT Openzone’s site yet about this plan.
James Enck at EuroTelcoblog offers a great, in-depth analysis of the BT Fusion launch: While the service initially will use Bluetooth, in the near future it will be based on Wi-Fi. There are a couple of great tidbits here. One is a potential loophole that Enck caught. Customers pay less when using the phone in their house. But the billing handoff doesn’t happen automatically. So users get billed according to where the call originates. Callers can initiate calls in their homes but then leave the house, continuing to be billed the house rate. This probably won’t make a huge difference to BT, but it is a bit like leaving money on the table.
Also, when you add it up, this really isn’t a particularly great deal, mainly because customers are essentially paying twice to use a phone at home. Since BT doesn’t offer naked DSL, customers pay a monthly fee for voice, a DSL subscription PLUS the subscription for BT Fusion. This amounts to £43.50 per month.
Enck also includes an interesting analysis of what he thinks is the potential customer base for the service, and in his estimation it isn’t very significant.
BT Openzone is hoping to draw in some new customers with a £2 deal for 250 minutes of access: The minutes last three months and after that the same amount of minutes can be purchased for £10. BT has historically made several other low price offers, seemingly aimed at attracting customers. So far, however, BT hasn’t done much in the way of dropping its regular prices, despite lots of grousing from the community about its high access rates.
In other BT news, the company is planning to launch a trial of a combined GSM/Wi-Fi service in April. The service will enable voice calls over both GSM and Wi-Fi networks. Trialers will use an HP iPaq. BT has been talking about this type of offering for a few months and in mid-February said it would add Wi-Fi to the concept in about 18 months. Initially, BT had planned to use Bluetooth. That plan is still underway but the company is also developing the Wi-Fi solution.
O2 Germany plans to start selling a device from Novatel Wireless called Ovation: The console allows 3G data users to share their connection with others via Wi-Fi. Essentially, it’s a Wi-Fi access point that uses 3G for backhaul.
Glenn Fleishman wrote a story last year about Junxion, a company in the U.S. that is selling a similar device. In the U.S. such devices are not welcomed by cellular operators and in fact some wireless operators say using them is against their user agreements. They would prefer that each person using their connection pay their own subscription for the access.
There is no mention in the O2 press release of requiring customers to subscribe to a special plan in order to use the device.
These devices, if the right size, can be especially useful to workers that may travel together. For instance, just one worker can subscribe to 3G service and the others can all share that connection via the console and Wi-Fi enabled laptops.
Kineto, which has been aggressive in pushing its Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) software, is making the software available to Microsoft Smartphone makers: Also, a Taiwanese handset maker said it is working on a GSM/GPRS/EDGE/Wi-Fi handset, using Kineto’s software. Kineto is also working on making its software available on Symbian-based handsets.
While I feel like a lot of the UMA buzz has been in Europe (but maybe that’s just because I’m here), Kineto believes that the first commercial launch of a UMA service will be in the U.S. This despite BT’s Bluephone buzz.
T-Mobile is discussing all of its upcoming data offerings at the 3GSM conference this week: It will offer the same combined 3G/Wi-Fi device that Orange is introducing. Both operators will start selling the Microsoft Windows Mobile device this summer.
T-Mobile also revealed some statistics about customers. It said that in January, customers in the U.S. transmitted more than 10 terabytes of data over T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi networks. T-Mobile plans to have 20,000 hotspots in Europe and the U.S. by the end of this year.
T-Mobile also discussed plans to introduce HSDPA within a year. The company’s chief technology officer compared HSDPA to ADSL, which may offer a hint as to how T-Mobile may market HSDPA. While some operators are looking at the technology as a way to offer a DSL or cable modem replacement service, I’ve talked to at least one analyst who thinks that HSDPA will be best suited to applications based on handheld devices or for filling in the connectivity gaps when customers are on the go. But because of the expense that operators paid for their cellular licenses, it’s unlikely that they could offer a similar price point for HSDPA as the DSL operators can for a similar unlimited Internet access offering in the home.
Given T-Mobile’s announcement that it is using a broadband wireless technology similar to WiMax for an onboard train offering, I wonder if T-Mobile may instead consider WiMax if it is looking for a technology to offer a service that is competitive to DSL or cable mode.
The Register is reporting that Orange will offer a combined 3G/Wi-Fi device later this year: It’s the same device, HTC’s Universal, that T-Mobile apparently plans to introduce this summer. Not only does the Universal operate over 3G, GPRS, and Wi-Fi, it’s apparently the first Windows Mobile device that operates on 3G.
Peter Judge at TechWorld reports that BT may be introducing a combined Wi-Fi/cellular service, but it’s not what you think: When customers make calls in their homes using a combined GSM/Wi-Fi phone, the call is carried over Wi-Fi between the phone and the access point. But the access point is backhauled over the GSM network. Instead of realizing the cost savings of carrying a call over IP over a broadband fixed connection, BT chooses to use the more expensive GSM network. The service becomes, in essence, a method for improving cell phone coverage in the home.
The idea doesn’t make sense in any context, but you might understand it if the offering was being made by a cell phone operator that stands to benefit by keeping calls on its network. But this is BT, which doesn’t have a cell phone network and will supply the cellular link via resale agreements with a mobile operator. It would make so much more sense for BT to backhaul the access points using its own wired network, using voice over IP and charging customers slightly reduced rates than the cell phone networks for the calls that use the system. That sounds like it could be a profitable service and would allow BT to beat out cellular operators that don’t own their own landline networks.
This service is basically an update to the previously announced Bluephone initiative and shouldn’t be available until 2006. Given the track record of the Bluephone plan, which was initially set to be introduced using Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi in 2003, it might not be surprising if the whole plan changes again.
This story needs a bit of a translation but I haven’t been able to dig up an official press release from O2: If I understand this properly, O2 is now offering a combined 3G/GPRS/Wi-Fi card and users can connect to The Cloud or BT hotspots.
O2 follows Vodafone and T-Mobile with the combined offering. I’m anxious to see how these combined services do. The prices still need to come down and users will want to access more hotspots than are available to them through their operator. But with a lower price and more hotspot access, this type of offering would be great.
The complaints of an early combined Wi-Fi/3G user are typical for a first generation service, but maddening enough that operators need to start moving in the right direction: At this stage, hotspot operators and cellular carriers should really be doing a much better job of forming roaming agreements of the kind that make it seamless for users to walk into just about any hotspot and get online for a single, reasonable monthly fee. Subscription prices for individual operators are just too high and ubiquity too limited to expect users to sign up for service from multiple hotspot operators.
This user, who has a combined Wi-Fi/3G card from Vodafone, doesn’t realize much benefit from having the combined card. While he gets a single bill for his 3G access and use of Openzone hotspots, he still, of course, has to pay separately for access to other hotspots. He also has a lot of complaints about using the 3G network to access email and other online services as compared to using Wi-Fi.
This user also offers an interesting if unlikely call for hotspot operators to form roaming deals with mobile operators. He suggests that if hotspot operators don’t let their customer roam to 3G networks, using a SIM-based Wi-Fi card, they’ll lose the customer relationship because customers will instead sign up for the Wi-Fi access through their mobile operator, which will bill them. That’s likely the way it will work, however. The mobile operators are not going to lose that billing relationship with their customer so I find it unlikely that they’ll open their networks to roaming by Wi-Fi customers. The combined services will most likely originate at the mobile operator, who will bill for the combined offering.