There are those old-fashioned folks who still prefer to talk by phone, believing that “synchronous audio communication” is sometimes better than email or even – gasp – Twitter. The problem is cost, particularly for those not tethered to a land line or a laptop with Skype. Paying for 1,000 cell phone minutes per month is not exactly recession-friendly. So, is there an alternative to jail-breaking your iPhone or waiting for Apple and AT&T to file for divorce? Yes, there is, and I have been using it for a couple of months now in three different countries, and it works a treat. Here is my user report.

What T-Mobile Offers

  • Limited choice of mobile phones. I chose the BlackBerry, because I’m used to it. No, T-Mobile doesn’t offer the iPhone!
  • Wi-Fi phone and data on your mobile. This is the interesting bit. Basically, wherever you have Wi-Fi, you will have free minutes.
  • GPRS, which is what you would use if you don’t have access to Wi-Fi.
  • Wi-Fi land line. This looks like an ordinary phone but connects to your high-speed line as a VoIP phone. Other companies offer this, but getting the whole bundle from your cell phone provider is pretty cool.

My Experience

First, no disclosure needed. I bought this at a regular T-Mobile store and paid the regular listed price. This was not a journalism assignment.

Here are the key points:

  • I’ve reduced my cell phone minutes dramatically… as in, cut them in half.
  • Most of my calls are from the office, home and other locations that I visit regularly. The phone picks those up regularly. For example, when I get home, the phone says “Home” (it says “T-Mobile” when I am in cell phone mode). That’s it. Nothing else to do. Just make (free) calls.
  • Call quality is mostly fine. If you see three Wi-Fi bars or fewer, it’s a bit flaky. You’ll hear voices in slow motion, like a tape winding doooown.
  • Push email comes through fine. This matters for when you are out of the country. You will still get email without having to sign up for an expensive international plan. You are not 100% always on, as you are with GPRS, but for many people who travel, it’s good enough. If not, just pay for the international plan.
  • It’s amazing how many places I found in my test across Switzerland, France, and America that have open Wi-Fi access. I just hit “Scan for networks” on my BlackBerry, and there they are. Note: I’m writing this in Herald Square, New York City, with three open Wi-Fi bars on my BlackBerry. Hm, who shall I call?

Industry Implications

  • The implications are practical mainstream stuff and carry a very simple message for consumers: save money.
  • It shows that big companies can innovate and are not always afraid to disrupt their own cash cows in their quest for more market share. Kudos to T-Mobile.
  • This will make Apple even keener to dump AT&T as soon as possible.
  • This puts pressure on Skype to deliver a practical, simple device for mobile phones.