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Should You Get A WiFi-Enabled Mobile Phone?

N91Let’s Talk asked through the Techdirt Insight Community about why consumers might want to get a WiFi-enabled mobile phone. From what I can tell, my “insight” was posted more or less un-edited to the Let’s Talk PhoneTalk blog. (It’s ok, they paid for the right to do that.) Meanwhile, check out what I said.

Let’s face it, your mobile operator doesn’t provide service everywhere. They may claim nationwide coverage, and for the most part, they may be right. However, there are always going to be dead spots.

The thought of WiFi on your mobile handset might sound like a good thing. WiFi can often fill in some of those dead spots, for instance, inside your house. But it won’t help you unless you use your mobile phone’s data services extensively.

There is one exception to this rule. T-Mobile in the US offers their T-Mobile HotSpot @Home service which permits your mobile phone to use WiFi for making and receiving calls to your normal T-Mobile handset. T-Mobile uses a technology called UMA, short for unlicensed mobile access. This technology allows a mobile handset to seamlessly roam between a WiFi network and the standard mobile phone network.

However, this service will not allow you to use any old WiFi-enabled handset. Specific ones sold by T-Mobile can be used with this service–ones that contain the necessary UMA software. Other phones that are WiFi-enabled, such as many of Nokia’s Nseries and Eseries devices, cannot utilize the UMA-specific features.

There are services that do permit you to call using the WiFi on your handset. The more well-known of these services, such as Gizmo Project, Truphone, and Fring, only run on high-end Nokia Nseries and Eseries handsets. These services do not offer seamless roaming between WiFi and the traditional mobile phone network, but they can be useful as a way to make cheap or even free calls from your mobile phone.

The biggest downside to WiFi on a mobile handset: the impact battery life. Extensive use of WiFi on a mobile handset can cut the runtime of a mobile phone substantially. If the WiFi is only used occasionally, it will not be as big of an impact.

For most normal people who do not utilize the Internet from their mobile handset or don’t use something like T-Mobile’s HotSpot @Home, WiFi is not necessary. Heavy data users or those who want to make cheaper phone calls may wish to consider a WiFi-enabled mobile handset.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments.


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