T-Mobile pushes Wi-Fi-calling, texting, debuts proprietary 'Cellspot' personal cell tower

SAN FRANCISCO--T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is making a big push for Wi-Fi calling by letting customers upgrade to a new Wi-Fi capable smartphone if they don't already have one. In addition, the carrier is offering postpaid customers a free (with a $25 deposit) proprietary "Cellspot" Wi-Fi router for their home to enhance their in-home coverage.

t-mobile Mike Sievert CMO

T-Mobile's CMO Mike Sievert participated in the company's announcement.

T-Mobile announced the new Wi-Fi Unleashed program here as part of its "uncarrier 7.0" event. Specifically, T-Mobile is letting customers without Wi-Fi capable smartphones upgrade through its "Jump" handset upgrade program even if they currently are not enrolled. The company said that all new smartphones will have Wi-Fi calling capability going forward.

It's no surprise that T-Mobile timed its event just one day after Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) announced its new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus which comes preloaded with iOS 8 software and supports Wi-Fi calling. Notably, T-Mobile is the only carrier in the U.S. to support Wi-Fi calling.  "We are the first to do it," T-Mobile CEO John Legere said during the event. "Apple is the first OEM to do it. You can now take the full T-Mobile experience to other environments."

The company, which earlier this year announced nationwide VoLTE service throughout its LTE coverage area that now encompasses about 230 million POPs, also touted the fact that customers with VoLTE-capable smartphones will be able to seamlessly handoff VoLTE calls to Wi-Fi without dropping. "Think about what that means," Legere said. "Now customers are not constrained to where our networks are or other networks."

Notably, T-Mobile has offered Wi-Fi calling for free since May 2011 and in 2007 debuted its [email protected] Wi-Fi calling service, which relied on technology from Kineto Wireless, which was just acquired by Taqua.

As part of the Wi-Fi calling push, T-Mobile is also offering customers a proprietary Cellspot router for their home that it says is like a "personal" T-Mobile tower. The Cellspot is free to postpaid customers with a $25 deposit. Prepaid customers can purchase it for $99. T-Mobile said the Cellspot has patent-pending quality of service technology that prioritizes voice calls.  Legere noted that 57 percent of cellular customers say that they have dropped calls in and around their homes and this device will eliminate those issues.

The Cellspot will be available Sept. 17 to all Simple Choice customers with a broadband connection and Wi-Fi ready smartphone.

Finally, T-Mobile also extended its Wi-Fi unleashed by inking a deal with inflight Wi-Fi firm GoGo to let customers send and receive unlimited text and picture messages and visual voicemail on any GoGo-equipped flight in the U.S. GoGo offers inflight service on more than 75 percent of domestic flights. The service is free to T-Mobile customers and will start Sept. 17 for customers with compatible smartphones.

Of course, no T-Mobile "uncarrier" event would be complete without Legere taking the opportunity to tout the company's accomplishments and throw some daggers at its competitors. Legere said that August was T-Mobile's biggest month ever with the company adding 2.7 million gross customers in the month.

He also reiterated his confidence that T-Mobile will overtake Sprint (NYSE: S) in terms of customers by year-end. "By the end of the year, we will be larger than Sprint," he said, taking a dig at Sprint's new CEO, Marcelo Claure, by adding: "When your network really blows, you have to compete on price." 

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