T-Mobile's New Wi-Fi Features a Wake-up Call for the Competition

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- T-Mobile USA (TMUS) announced its latest salvo against the competition, this time stressing increased Wi-Fi services rather than another round of cutting monthly contract prices or raising data limits.

T-Mobile's new seventh round of "Uncarrier" offerings involves customers using Wi-fi for making voice calls and texting, an indoor cellular "hot spot" for improved service inside your home, improved quality voice calls on its cellular network and a new way for T-Mobile customers to use their devices at 30,000 feet.

IDC's Vice President, Internet of Things, Mobile Service & Infrastructure, Carrie MacGillivray, thinks the carrier is on the right track. Via email MacGillivray said "I think the Uncarrier 7.0 announcements are just another step on T-Mobile's strategy to ease customer pain points. I don't see this latest news as having a huge market impact. What I do expect, however, is that T-Mobile is continuing to make an increasingly strong value proposition to it's existing customers as well as enticing new customers."

T-Mobile shares were advancing 0.33% to $30.62 in midday trading in New York.

In typical fashion, T-Mobile's outspoken CEO John Legere not only boasted about his company's new initiative but also took advantage of the opportunity to bash the competition:"Wi-Fi Un-leashed is a game changer. This is like adding millions of towers to our network in a single day. The difference between us and the traditional carriers is that they'll do everything they can to make more money off you. We'll do everything we can to solve your problems."

As for what's involved in the new offer, the number four U.S. wireless carrier promises 100% of the new consumer and business smartphones it sells in its stores are now capable of making and receiving voice calls and texts over personal and business Wi-Fi networks. That should help customers realize improved connectivity in more indoor locations which has always been a problem for modern-day smartphones. Wi-Fi calling works best the closer a phone is located to the Wi-Fi access point.

T-Mobile was quick to point out that it's the first U.S. carrier to offer Wi-Fi calling on Apple's  (AAPL) new iPhone 6 and 6 PLus models.

To aid those with older handsets, T-Mobile is offering an "exclusive enrollment window" for upgrades, allowing customers to take advantage of newer Wi-Fi calling phones.

And to ensure a strong cellular/Wi-Fi connection indoors, T-Mobile has a Personal Cell-Spot. It's described as a "personal T-Mobile tower for inside your house" (or anywhere else you want to take it). The signal boosting device requires a $25 deposit but no monthly fee.

Lynnette Luna, Senior Analyst with Current Analysis thinks T-Mobile is on the right track with its latest announcement. Reached by email, Luna said: "While price is still a major factor for consumers in buying mobile services, coverage is also a huge consideration. Wi-Fi calling is a good way to counter areas where coverage is poor, especially in the home. So it's a good churn reducer. The addition of the Personal CellSpot is a nice touch for the home to help ensure quality since it boosts the Wi-Fi signal and prioritizes voice traffic."

Luna believes adding WI-fi services is a double-edged sword. "Carriers like T-Mobile can't really guarantee any quality of service over public Wi-Fi hotspots, but there will come a time when we will see what's called "carrier-grade" Wi-Fi that will enable carriers to control more parameters on Wi-Fi networks."

In addition to the new Wi-fi, the carrier is also making sure voice calls sound better when you're using your phone outdoors T-Mobile says its engineers are busy upgrading the system to include voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) services. The idea is to route your calls over speedy 4G data lines instead of currently used older technologies.

T-Mobile isn't the only U.S. carrier to boast about offering new VoLTE services. AT&T (T) , Verizon (VZ) also offer the new technology with Sprint (S) planning to begin rolling out its version early next year.

T-Mobile has also entered into an agreement with the in-flight connectivity service Gogo Inc. (GOGO) to extend some Wi-fi connectivity to its customers. While not providing anything to do with voice calls or Internet browsing, T-Mobile subscribers will now be able to get visual voicemail as well as send and receive text and picture messages on any Gogo-equipped flight on a U.S.-based airline including American/U.S. Air (AAL) , Delta (DAL) , United (UAL) and Virgin America.

-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

To submit a news tip, send an email to tips@thestreet.com.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet's Senior Technology Correspondent.

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