T-Mobile to Offer Wi-Fi / Packet Data Integration
By Eric Lin, Tue Mar 02 22:45:00 GMT 2004

There's a difference between offering a device with a number of different data modes and actually seamlessly integrating them all into the performance of the phone. T-Mobile knows this and has committed to combining all their data resources into a single, multiband network.

T-Mobile has a large network of Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as GSM / GPRS throughout Europe and North America. They have already begun to launch 3G in Europe, and they are expected to launch EDGE in the US soon. So far the only sort of seamless roaming customers have experienced on T-Mobile is GPRS usage between continents. Last week they announced that Wi-Fi hotspot subscribers will be able to roam between the US and Europe using their T-Mobile accounts, and have already implemented this intercontinental Wi-Fi login.

The Register tells that T-Mobile will initially offer subscribers a PC Card with Wi-Fi and cellular data (2G and/or 3G), allowing them to switch to whatever is available. In addition to the card, it seems likely that T-Mobile will also be among the first carriers to offer the PDA phones Nokia and Motorola announced last week with Wi-Fi as well as packet data built in.

Whether using a smartphone or a modem card, switching between Wi-Fi and packet data will unlikely be seamless. Current software implementations require users to manually switch networks (and sometimes log in again). To implement seamless roaming, The Register points out that manufacturers will have to contend with a company called Calypso Wireless that has been issued a patent for roaming between cellular, Wi-Fi and even Bluetooth networks. No doubt a user-friendly (or at least friendlier solution could be reached without violating the patent. We imagine a small piece of software that checks for Wi-Fi first and then if that isn't available (or a preferred hotspot isn't available), switches to cellular data. It may not provide hands-free switching like Calypso's system, but once a preferred hotspot has been identified, it would be fairly seamless and out of the way, just like the Wi-Fi selector on desktop OSes.

It will be interesting to see how different T-Mobile's integrated data is from what they currently offer. T-Mobile wireless subscribers can already add a hotspot account to their bill at a discounted rate and roam between the protocols. Would this new implementation just mean one less password?