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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

T-Mobile US UMA. A trial. After a trial. Maybe a graceful exit?

So T-Mobile US is finally "launching" its "HotSpot @ Home" WiFi UMA service, as I mentioned 2 months back. Well, more accurately, it's trialling it again, this time in public, in a handful of areas near Seattle. The official website is here and some good commentary on it here.

Shame they also announced a trial back in January. "Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung devices currently in user trials" on Slide 11 here . Maybe they lost the first trial's results?

... or maybe it's a way to get something to show from their time, money & effort, before they quietly shelve it? According to the NY Times the firm "declined to say how long the trial in the Seattle area would continue, or on T-Mobile’s plans to introduce the service elsewhere"

And I love the spokeperson's comment that "a regular wireless router could be used, but added that “We don’t recommend that.”" . No, I bet you don't, as the inevitable support calls will drain even more cash. Maybe you should have used Bluetooth instead?


Chris Buerger said...


you got this wrong. T-Mobile ain't gonna shut down their UMA service any time soon. Here is why:

1) it is aligned with their global strategy. Check out their T-One service in Germany, different motivation, same execution.

2) They cracked the hardest part of doing UMA; getting terminal OEMs to actually built dual mode feature phones. Now it is just iterating on the same basic implementation.

3) They are so network capacity constrained, they need to off-load as much voice as they can. All those 1500min and FabFive plans are creating quite some havoc in their network.

4) They finally want to generate some meaningful ROI on their Hot Spot networks.

5) They need to amortize the money they sunk into building the UMA infrastructure. Those fancy VPN term servers ain't cheap.

6) It is the only meaningful data pitch they can make until they rolled out UTMS.

7) This just formalizes long-standing competition with Vonage, ELNK's TrueVoice; different angle, same cash in the customer's wallet.

Email me if you want cbuerger@helio.com. I have been in this field since I left DM :-)

Dean Bubley said...

Hi Chris, good to hear from you.

Theoretically, T-Mo US is the one carrier worldwide which has a plausible massmarket use case & marketing message for UMA.

"You've got no 2G coverage at home, but you've got broadband and WiFi and low expectations in terms of handset openness. So we're going to give you a mediocre phone from a huge range of two & maybe a new WiFi box, and now Hey Presto you'll have coverage. Now shut up & take what you're given"

T-Mobile US is essentially what UMA was invented for - 2G operator with patchy coverage in areas with low population density & lots of competition.


1) No, it's not aligned with global strategy. T-One in Germany is based on SIP, using Foxconn devices & soon Nokia E- or N-Series. It's sort of "pre-IMS" if you want to call it that.
2) None of the handset OEMs, nor most of the chipset vendors, seems particular enthused by UMA. It distracts from the push to 3G devices & IMS, and WiFi doesn't work well with phones without a full-OS, except for extremely basic use cases, because of the need to create much more fully-featured "bearer aware" user interfaces. I wrote a 200 page report on this 18 months ago & it's all been proven right so far.
3) Yes, backhaul & radio capacity is a problem. However, shifting your pain towards handset software & WiFi customer support doesn't necessarily constitute an economic solution
4) I think the hotspot dualmode VoWLAN model is even more tenuous than the residential one, for numerous reasons. Time will tell.
5) "They need to amortise the money" misses the second half of the sentence beginning with "...or else..."
6) I don't know enough about T-Mobile's US operations to know if they other "value added" options. Personally, I'd rather take zero extra revenue against making a loss elsewhere, unless they can do the whole thing cheaply enough to use it to "gain useful experience of FMC business models" and set it off against the HR management training & PR budgets.
7) Right problem, wrong solution. All the UMA carriers I've spoken essentially say "well, it's a start" and want to switch to some variant of SIP / VCC / IMS as soon as possible. Others have gone that the proprietary SIP route to begin with.

Anonymous said...

UMA might be a stopgap solution to achieve Fixed Mobile Convergence, but it is indeed the only standards based solution available today.
IMS (VCC or others) is way away from being deployed.

I think using UMA is a smart move for T Mobile.

UMA infrastructure does not need a huge upfront investment like you imply in your post. UNC is just an enhanced GSM BSC.

UMA is a really a very focussed solution which addresses a niche market. IMS may be more generic and may offer richer services but it ain't happening anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with Dean here..UMA is a stop gap solution for voice... I will not be surprised to see them move on in the next 1/1.5 year...

TMO US being number 4 typically offers more minutes for every $ than other carriers. I think it is the highest in the US. So this is a way to offload that trafic...

Anonymous said...


here are my comments on your response.

1) T-Mobile USAs move does align with DTAG's global UMA strategy. Just check out www.theonlyphoneyouneed.com and www.t-one.de. The marketing positioning is virtually identical (they even seem to have the same web agency(. Now, as I said, T-COMs motivation is totally different (it is defensive), but the execution is very similar. Also, of course the devices are made by different OEM/ODMs (T-Mobile was able to leverage its relationships with Samsung et al...), but both are SIP/RTP based platforms.

2) There is little material difference between UMA and IMS. I would argue that most of the IMS/MMD specs are just an evolution of the original UMA specs. Now, with regard to chipset vendors, it really depends. Certainly, one could argue that TI is pushing it pretty hard. Also, Broadcom, Marvell and Atheros are on board. You may also want to check with Intel on their UMD investment. The bottomline is the same though; once you got one terminal working and integrated into a convergence infrastructure, building a second one is a piece of cake.

3)Wi-Fi customer support is manageable and can be scaled pretty quickly (unlike buying spectrum and building new regional RANs). Also, T-Mobile does not build the terminal SW, the terminal OEM does. TM just gives them a core feature spec for things like T-Zones; that's why all the T-Mobile terminals look so different for seconday apps such as calendar/phone book functions.

4) The value prop for dual mode usage at Wi-Fi hotspots is pretty clear. For voice, it is the link to an unlimited VoIP calling plan and cheap/free calling for International Business Travellers. For data, it is downloading as much data to support stationary apps as you can.

5) There is no 'or else'. They paid a chunk of money to buy and host some infra equipment. As anything else, they need to amortize the investment over time.

6)As I said above, in practical terms the difference between UMA and IMS is really minor. T-Mobile already does VCC as part of their initial roll-out (for a better or worse). Personally, I believe that VCC is totally overhyped; there is very little expected usage of that feature. The point is that T-Mobile is late to the UMTS game and Wi-Fi is a cheap gap filler.

7) Your response does not really answer my point.