Comparing Femto vs. UMA Service: Sprint AIRAVE vs. T-Mobile @Home

November 8, 2008 at 1:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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Q: What is the best solution for delivering mobile capacity in your Home/Office?

A: T-Mobile @Home has the edge

Or, technically speaking, how does a real-world exampleof UMA compare with Femtocell?
For a more general comparison of your choices for savings, please see my review of available solutions for “Cutting the Cord.” Alternatively, if  you desire to geek out on the technical details, check out my previous post on the technology alternatives that mobile operators are using to deliver service in your home/office.


Estimate for single person subscription, two-year use.
Restriction: T-Mobile requires a 2-year service contract, Sprint has no contract requirements.

SUMMARY: @Home costs less and offers more features, but probably requires you to get a new handset(so you start out a bit further in the hole). Sprint AIRAVE could be less expensive if you only need improved indoor coverage ($5/month), but if you desire unlimited calling, it’s $15/month. I compared apples vs. apples, using unlimited calling. Sprint AIRAVE is less expensive if used only for better service coverage ($5/month), without the option of unlimited at home calling ($15/month). However, subscribers may find that unlimited in-home use can reduce their monthly bill, if they are able to revise their service plan to select a lower bundle of minutes.

Outlook: UMA will continue to be the best choice for the consumer for years. The only downside for UMA is the limited choice in phones (always a barrier for dual-mode solutions such as this, and typically a strong barrier to consumer adoption, since handset choice is a very personal thing for many users). Consumers will have a much broader choice of handsets over time, with many more UMA phones expected to be available, with as many as 50% Wi-Fi capable by 2012.

Why? Wi-Fi technology (and UMA) is already mature, so the costs are much lower. Consumer cost of the Femtocell will only slowly decline, as Femtocells become mature and start to sell in volume (In contrast, costs are already very low for the Wi-Fi + VoIP router). Operators will therefore tend to charge more to the consumer for the Femto than the comparable UMA solution.



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  1. […] See the original post: Comparing Femto vs. UMA Service: Sprint AIRAVE vs. T-Mobile @Home […]

  2. […] Comparing AIRAVE and T-Mobile Hotspot@Home […]

  3. Have you actually used both of these systems?
    Hotspot at home simply does not work, except as a toy, occasionally.
    I don’t consider it equal in performance, or ready for prime time.

    [Robert:] I’m sorry that your UMA experience has been unusually negative. Millions of other customers appear to be satisfied, including me. I am happy using UMA (T-Mobile @Home service) in my Home Office as my primary service, and I would not jeopardize my business with a poor communications solution. No question, a femtocell is a great and seamless solution, if properly configured. But my UMA solution has worked extremely well, too, and has many strong benefits that femtocells lack.

    1. You can’t roam from hotspot to a roaming partner.

    Typically not a problem, I would imagine, as most of your UMA use will be in a residence/office, and the surrounding area would have to be your home carrier to be cost-efficient (or you’ve chosen the wrong carrier).

    2. Except for the blackberry, none of the phones can be told to prefer wi-fi,
    they just go for the strongest signal

    Excellent point: sounds like a good feature for other UMA phones to adopt. I agree that having a Wi-Fi preference is very useful for UMA devices, by keeping traffic on the Wi-Fi network unless it needs to hand it off.

    3. Well, how does it work for when you go to a
    car dealership that provides free wi-fi?

    UMA over Wi-Fi works fine for me, globally. You just need to have a device or process that allows you to get on an open Wi-Fi network that uses a splash screen via your browser. I’ve reliably used UMA on such open systems and with secured systems (using various authentication and encryption methods)—setup is just as easy as joining a Wi-Fi hotspot from your laptop (which nearly everyone is familiar with). The only disadvantage that I find when using Wi-Fi is that they do not typically provide excellent (or predictable) coverage, but it’s better than nothing (such as inside a hotel or business where no cellular signal is available).

    Using Wi-Fi networks around the world is a big benefit for UMA, as it allows you to eliminate international roaming charges (using T-Mobile’s plan), while continuing to use your mobile phone. Our company has successfully used this to save thousands of dollars in roaming charges, and are deploying it to save millions. Use of external Wi-Fi networks is a big plus for UMA versus femtocells; femtocells do not allow you to carry them around wherever you wish, since they may only be legally used where the MNO has license to operate on a specific frequency band (that the femto uses). In contrast, UMA uses Wi-Fi which is available for use (unlicensed) around the world.

    How does it work for incoming calls then?
    Biggest problem is that the wi-fi part locks up randomly
    and you have to reset the phone by powering it on and off.

    Having an unstable phone—for whatever reason—is a major pain. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced that problem at all.

    you are sitting at home with your phone sitting on the charger
    (because wi-fi eats battery)

    Your phone’s battery life is not reduced when using the recommended T-Mobile router, since it uses a modern, UMA-optimized, Wi-Fi router. Similar to power save features that were introduced in the early days of digital cellular, some routers now support a power save feature (Wireless Multimedia) that avoids reducing your battery life. Result: same battery life using cellular and/or Wi-Fi. For more details, see my previous article, “Longer Talk Time over Wi-Fi (WMM)”

    Well, certainly AIRAVE must have some of these problems. Nope.

    Great news that you are having a seamless experience with Sprint’s femtocell service! Undoubtedly, this is exactly what is desired: no messing with wireless LANs, no handoffs between different technologies … just seamless service. However, there are trade-offs in cost (Femtocells cost money, a lot more money than a Wi-Fi router, and somebody’s going to have to pay for that custom device).

    I suspect that UMA and Femtocells will compete and will coexist for some time. UMA is an increasingly successful technology today, in UMA shows great promise in an increasingly broad set of applications.

  4. Be afraid, be very afraid. I signed up for this service in July, 2008. It appeared to work alright w/ some outages until January, 2009 when it was down for minutes, hours, days. When the problem occurs it requires you to reset your router each and every time. It was so bad I had to set up a surge protector under my desk, so I could simply use my foot to turn the router on and off, on and off, on and off…. When I called to complain, t-mobile told me they were not aware of this problem, well to be frank they are liars. There are postings all over the place, including their own forum on how unreliable this service really is.
    They sent me a new router, knowing full well this wouldn’t solve the problem – the problem was I believed them. Why wouldn’t I, I had VOIP for years from other providers with no real problems. Well – same problems. You are on the phone and all of sudden the person on the other end cannot hear you – reset the router. You call them back or they call you and it drops again – reset the router. You do it a few more times – same thing. Like I said it may be minutes but more likely hours and in the end days at a time. It also takes your internet service with it. Linksys forum also has many postings, look up “no blue light”.
    So I call again – told my case was closed – really, no one called to see if it was working. Told you have to start at the lower level customer service all over again. Email CEO, get call from executive response team. Now they are angry, combative, abusive and threatening – yes, threatening to “investigate” my phone calls or how I use my phone – I told them – have at it. Their executive response person Beckett spoke over me continually – actually yelling at me. I told her I did not want any more contact with her – find someone else. Oh – did I mention she thought it was funny I had this kind of phone service. Even though the phone continually disconnected while I was speaking with her – she tried to claim it wasn’t their problem and they still expected me to pay the bill. Anyway, Beckett had the audacity to keep calling me and I told her emphatically not to call. She said she would continue to call – oh, really – had to inform her this was harassment in writing. Then someone else called but the call kept dropping and they didn’t call back.
    Senior tech Kevin calls and told me he had the same issue, but it wasn’t as bad these days – not as bad – are you kidding me! He was supposed to come to me and bring a new router – well he never showed up. Then a letter from t-mobile they are terminating my service and keeping my activation fees, the money for phones and equipment, but we still want you to pay the balance on your bill or we won’t release your number. Keep in mind I paid all along, believing they were honestly attempting to fix the problem – because they said so – like I said – LIARS. In April when the service became unbearable, leaving me without my internet service – I told them I would pay when they fixed the problem – therefore I was disputing my bill. American consumers have to stop being doormats – we have let this happen. Not me – not anymore. I reported them to the FCC, BBB, AG and small claims. An important fact is that you cannot call 911 should you need to when you have no service or it disconnects every minute. Well at least that would get the cops here, since they would figure we were making prank calls to 911. Totally disgraceful company.

  5. I had two different brands of UMA handsets abd three replacements for the Nokia. Both had the same issues with not being able to log in to a site that required a web interaction, bad battery life, and randomly dropped calls. The comment that I need a special T-Mobile router to get decent battery life is interesting, but I thought that the point was to use my existing router and public Wi-Fi infrastructure.

    If you have a Wi-Fi Blackberry you can’t compare your experience to someone who uses one of the other handsets.

    Finally, the reason that roaming from Wi-Fi to a roaming partner matters is that the non-blackberry handsets will randomly roam off the Wi-Fi (as I said) when a stronger GSM signal is detected from a roaming partner, resulting in a dropped call. This can easily happen in an office. Two bars of UMA, three bars of GSM, and the phone roams off UMA.

    If your rollout is all blackberry, and they do all the things you say, great. The other handsets were unusable jokes-which means that the real cost of UMA includes both the special router and Blackberry fees.

    Again, the Airave just works, with any sprint phone.

  6. I have been using T-Mobile hotspot@home (a.k.a. UMA/VOIP through home wireless router) for 1.5 years. It generally works well in our suburban home location. It does require a reliable broadband internet connection with low latency. Quality of broadband connection is easy to test using,, and the commands “tracert” or “ping” on command prompt or MS-DOS prompt. We had to switch from one provider to another because their broadband service started to go down hill, or was being filtered, or both.

    I use the Samsung T339, which is probably the best flip phone for this purpose due to its long battery life and features. I use the Linksys T-Mobile Router which was free after rebate. Router settings affecting the phone are all factory except for one firmware upgrade via Linksys website, enabling WPA security, and switching from channel 6 to channel 11.

    We pay the $10/month for unlimited UMA calls on all our UMA cell phones. We live in a very poor cellular area, so the phone stays on UMA and does not switch over to cellular. But even if it did, I could always use airplane mode and just turn off cellular altogether to stay on UMA. I can also use this feature when traveling outside the USA to call back to USA numbers and/or check voicemail for free on Wi-Fi without roaming on foreign cellular networks.

    The phone does not have a real web browser to log in to secured, but free, Wi-Fi hot spots like the Blackberry does. The work around is to use a laptop and free software to temporarily change the MAC address of the computer to the phone’s MAC address, log in to network on your computer, and then disconnect the computer from the network. This allows the phone to then connect to the “log-in” Wi-Fi location due to this MAC address spoofing. I have used this spoofing at hotels successfully. If a hotel offers wired broadband, you can also use your own portable wireless router for UMA and Wi-Fi.

    Occasionally, the phone does not automatically switch back from cellular to Wi-Fi when I come inside. In these cases I just hit the “C” to connect or just power the phone on and off. Occasionally, the T-Mobile UMA server is down and then the UMA service won’t work at all and we fall back to leaving our cell phones upstairs where a weak cellular signal is present (like using a good old corded land line).

    Call quality is excellent on UMA (with a good broadband connection) and we really have not had dropped calls inside our home like others have posted. Our centrally located Wi-Fi router covers a 2 story 2200 sf house without problems. Some areas outside the house (in the yard) will lose the Wi-Fi signal and it is possible to drop a call if we walk outside to these locations due to the very weak cellular signal outside that prevents an easy switch over.

    We are happy with our dual mode cell phones, T-Mobile customer service, and the price we pay for it. New UMA phones (through T-Mobile) are currently limited to Blackberry models and the $10/month unlimited UMA is also discontinued to new customers. The UMA basic phones can still be purchased online through other vendors and the minutes just come out of your plan. Make sure to buy a genuine T-Mobile UMA phone and not one from Rodgers or Orange, etc.

    It helps to be somewhat tech inspired when using new products like these phones because it is not as simple as just turning on the phone.

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