Why UMA Still Matters, Especially On Smartphones

I’ve often wondered why UMA doesn’t get more playing time in today’s T-Mobile world and, to be honest, it frustrates me. A service so simple, so powerful and yet seemingly avoided on T-Mobile smartphones, save for the Blackberry. I can’t wager as far as to say it’s a hardware problem, or a software problem that prevents T-Mobile and their partner manufacturers from getting this service up and running on Android, Windows or even Nokia smartphones. When I lived in my old house, it was a cell phone dead zone for everyone but AT&T. Verizon, nope. Sprint, not a chance. T-Mobile…well that didn’t work so well either but UMA was a dream come true. Not only did I not get stuck with the death star (AT&T) but it allowed me to use my phone inside any room, or outside, even on the driveway. It was like paradise had found me and I was living the dream. Remember the Nokia 6085? Oh yes, I sported that for a while, that was my home phone and my Pearl was my going out to impress people phone. I sim card swapped every day and I was perfectly fine with it, because I had my magenta inside my home and I was perfectly happy.

Nowadays, those looking or, more importantly, those needing UMA services are forced to skip out on every smartphone worth buying on T-Mobile. I’m not saying the Blackberry 9700 isn’t worth anything, it’s a perfectly awesome phone but Blackberry just isn’t the cup of tea for a large contingent of smartphone buyers anymore. Let me go on record as saying we’ve heard, on more than one occasion and from more than one source that T-Mobile will be bringing a UMA Android device to the masses this year. Of course, this is, like all things, merely rumor and speculation until we get something concrete and on paper. We’re holding out hope, but more importantly I’m ready to beg T-Mobile not to give up on this service, not to avoid its advantages in favor of trying to score points on the HSPA+ front.

I know it might be an image problem where T-Mobile doesn’t want to put a focus on a service that basically says “hey, we don’t have good enough coverage in your house but by using your broadband we can fill that gap.” Look the bottom line is I understand that, from a marketing perspective, it’s not a good look. With so much talk of 4G this, HSPA+ that, who wants to emphasize Wi-Fi? This feature isn’t something that makes T-Mobile look less effective; it makes them look more efficient and more likely to fulfill customer’s needs. Say what you want about Verizon’s impeccable marketing, they very well may be the most reliable carrier in America. That doesn’t make them the best carrier for everyone and we all know plenty of locations where Verizon works, T-mobile doesn’t and vice versa. UMA isn’t an end all be all problem and some people don’t want to consistently rely on a Wi-Fi connection for service and I get that, it’s not something you should have to rely on. However it’s also something you shouldn’t ignore because, frankly, what’s the difference between that and a Microcell? When push comes to shove they are both tools to increase signal capacity in a low signal area. The reality is that’s what matters to the consumer, the ability to make calls and reliably make them. If T-Mobile can provide an alternate method for customers who want to keep T-Mobile service, or lived in a dead zone for cell service like me, then why not do more to up sell this service.

The bottom line is I think T-Mobile is missing a golden opportunity with UMA and has ignored it for some time now. It came out with a lot of hoopla but died down quickly and whether or not that was due to poor marketing, poor implementation or just a stigma on needing to piggyback off a wifi connection to make a call is anyone’s guess. I think T-Mobile can handle both an HSPA+ rollout and a redoubled UMA service because what it’s really about is providing the customers with alternatives and selection. Why can’t I have both? I know HSPA+ is going to come to my area eventually, maybe by the end of the year or maybe in 2011 but it’ll come eventually. In the meantime, for those of you who still live in a house like I did why shouldn’t you have the option to enjoy the T-Mobile service you love on a wifi connection that’s readily available? Come on Magenta, give us our UMA!

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  • Ted C.

    @Danny
    UMA is primarily about how to perform handoffs between GSM and VOIP so something that doesn’t support this simply isn’t UMA. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be great to have but please don’t represent this as UMA.

    UMA doesn’t require specific hardware other than both a GSM radio and a WiFi radio. It does require the vendor to implement a UNC (UMA Network Controller) which basically handles all the signaling which tells the backend network that a switch is being made between access methods. From the UNC back to the rest of the carrier equipment the WiFi connection looks like a regular GSM connection which is part of what makes it *relatively* simple to implement UMA. So basically the handset talks to the UNC to ask for a transfer from GSM and then initiates a GSM session over TCP to talk to the UNC. The UNC just looks like any other tower to the providers network.

    • Ash

      Totally agree. I just created a facebook fan page for T-Mobile USA UMA. Become a fan and let’s hope T-Mobile brings this service to all android phones!

  • Jimbo

    Uma is amazing and there is not going to be a simple app for android phones out already it would need hardware in the phone to run also uma calling is not free international calling it aslo uses your minutes if you don’t have the grandfathered unlimited uma feature that’s 10 before uma was dismissed tmo fixed the system to charge for international calls over wifi and dave your amazing keep up the good work

  • wam

    How dose the UMA work with the Nokia E73?

    • quailallstar

      The Nokia E73 really doesn’t do UMA as well as Blackberry phones does. The handoff between EDGE/3G into UMA is horrible and drops calls. I’ve gone through two new E73′s with them both doing this.

      Holding out for an Android OS phone with UMA :)

      • http://www.absolutefiction.com [rono]

        Not just Android phones, please.
        We all need this.
        :-)

  • wam

    How good dose it work, is what i meant to say. lol

  • TheLight

    this is off topic 6ut I would love to see more articles posted…even though Monday is supposedly a slow news day and T0Mobile isnt going to have news over flowing in the wireless industry, 6ut I still think you TMOnews can report a little more news even it repeats engadget and other sites who get it 6efore them… I like to visit this site 6ecause its carrier specific to me, 6ut I only look at the other sites when I get 6ored here and lately thats 6een awhole lot..just saying..I still love you guys though

    • David

      I would love to post more news everyday, but this is a T-Mobile based site so the news we write on is T-Mobile related. I won’t post stories just to drive traffic or just to make it look like the blog is busy, I’d rather go a day or two without news than lose focus. There aren’t any phone launches this month so its a little slower than usual but rest assured as the rest of the year goes on we all know there are phones that are going to make you guys very happy!

      • TheLight

        touche’

  • T-Mobile UMA

    I just created a T-Mobile UMA Fan Page. Come and support! Let’s get this bad ass on Android phones!

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/T-Mobile-USA-UMA-Wifi-Calling/152085804808866?v=info

  • SeanPDX

    UMA is why I stay with Tmobile. Verizon has better coverage. AT&T better phones.

    UMA makes Tmobile work where no other cell phones do – in countries with different frequency bands, and out in rural areas of the US. Hopefully Tmo will get cutting edge hardware, but if they lack UMA it is a dealbreaker for me.

  • gmo tulane

    UMA is the best thing that has happened in my life. Need to make a call in Cuba? You got it. Need to make a call in my basement apartment? You betcha. UMA is so fantastic I frequently show it off to people as the greatest invention ever. They always wonder, why havent I heard of this before? Why dont more phones have it? How can I get it?

  • Michael

    My family has been using this feature for a couple of years, love it. Bad reception-solved, using tons of minutes-solved, need to call home from overseas-solved (magenta killed this feature recently-????). I agree, I don’t understand not promoting this feature fully. Friends always ask me why I’m still using Blackberry’s and I tell them about UMA and they don’t even realize it exists.

  • remixfa

    yes, you are correct about “granfathered UMA plans”. I wasnt talking past tense though as most people have moved away from those plans for some reason or another and they are not availible. I dont want some person comming into the store and yelling at me because they read on the internet that its unlimited, and its not.

    A UMA for Android app has NOT been “Promised” publicly, absolutely. I have heard from multiple sources much higher that is IS in the works. If it ever comes out or not, is a different story. Concidering we had UMA refresher stuff a few months back, they are not done with UMA so be patient.

  • Guy

    The wifi app for android is coming. UMA is back strong.

  • Happywith339

    We have been using the Samsung t409 and t339 UMA phones for a couple of years and the service generally works great. Same story here, NO cellular carrier works in our basement excepts our T-Mobile UMA phones (maybe microcells do, but I already have a Wi-Fi router for computers, so I don’t want or need that).

    T-Mobile should have just called it Wi-Fi calling from the beginning, instead of all the confusion with hotspot, hotspot@home, etc. A great example of bad marketing.

    My suggestion is to add some new regular cell phones that have UMA and a better feature set than the T339. For example, add in software that allows logging in to many hotel’s free wi-fi networks via the built-in web browser. Speaking of web browsers, how about using Opera Mini and allowing it to connect for free to Wi-Fi instead of going through the UMA servers via Wi-Fi for internet access at $10/month? Add in software that can log when call quality goes down to determine if it is the phone, the cable provider, or T-Moible’s UMA servers causing the problems. A higher quality camera would be nice, maybe even one with a flash. Higher quality video recording would be a bonus. How about an external extending antenna to prevent dropped calls on T-Mobile’s sometimes weak 1900 MHz GSM network? The antennas on the T339 are on the bottom of the phone and the hand does reduce signal strength unless you just hold it with the tips of your fingers. Finally, a bigger battery and maybe a slightly larger flip phone to accommodate it. Price could be about the same as the SE Equinox ($160 range) and I would buy it. Why reinvent the wheel, just make it better!

    Smart phones are still a small percentage of the total cell phone market. Many people do not want to pay for slow, unreliable, and high latency (compared to home Wi-Fi) mobile broadband at $30/month. The Nokia Nuron was a good idea, except that it does not have Wi-Fi, does not have UMA, and the antenna is weak. The E73 mode requires a data plan.

  • rinklighter

    T-Mobile doesn’t exactly some super amazing news every day, but when it breaks TmoNews is on usually on top of it. This is off-topic, but what is up with the moronic use of the sixes in your post? Is it that difficult to type a “b?”

  • bleedingmagenta

    from what i understand of UMA here in the U.S. is that the FCC has tight restrictions on approving UMA handsets (since they don’t make any money off the access or bandwidth persay). And since TMO is the only US carrier that supports UMA that makes it harder for device manuf. to pass one thru FCC. BB is great with it cause they have the feds. in their pockets due to all the government contracts with RIM. Just my 2 cents.

    • Doug

      Why would a UMA handset need to meet any different requirements than any other WIFI enabled phone? UMA is just a service that operates over wifi like web traffic, or streaming video, etc. to be more specific UMA is an encrypted ipsec tunnel or basically a VPN connection

      Thats kind of like saying bittorrent programs need approval from the FCC before you can use them over wifi, because they might over saturate a wifi channel or something

  • Matt

    I keep a 8320 around specifically for UMA and traveling out of the country. People always ask if calling internationally is going to cost me a ton of money. Nope, UMA :)

    I’ll add my vote to the “UMA is part of the reason I’m still with T-Mobile” camp.

  • Jimbo

    Hey matt when you use uma to call internationaly and get a huge bill don’t be crying to customer service

    • TheDude

      So when is that “huge bill” supposed to hit, exactly? I’ve used it internationally as well :/

      • TheDude

        I should mention to make/receive calls to the US while in international locations. I get a local phone (or swap sims) for any locally international calls.

  • ItsMichaelNotMike

    If not a UMA phone, how about a waterproof one?

    Per Boy Genius Report 8/17/10:

    Boost Mobile might have the Motorola i1 as a ruggedized Android handset, but we’ve just been informed that T-Mobile will be upping the stakes. A new Motorola Android phone, codenamed Jordan, is set for a November launch on T-Mo. The interesting thing about the Motorola Jordan is not that it is just a ruggedized handset, bur rather that we’ve heard the phone will actually be completely waterproof down to 10 meters (that’s just shy of 33-feet for those of you who are metrically challenged). Even IP67 certified. So, the phone will be swimming with the fishes at launch then?

    • alex32

      im sure itll be a “slam dunk” of a phone..NOT..how in the world are we able to get info on this phone coming out in November when we are in august and havent gotten anything on our hspa+ phones in September? tmobile is so aggravating.

  • Kirsten

    UMA is the only thing keeping me on TMobile once my contract is up. Otherwise I’d move on to a carrier that can at least provide me with a signal in my house (even if its a tad more expensive). ya know… where I am at least 50% of my life?

  • http://Globalmoble.blogspot.com Mackinrow

    i love uma i wish it was on my hd2

  • http://www.russellheimlich.com/blog Russell Heimlich

    Wifi and battery life don’t mix well together. So not only would T-Mobile have a marketing problem saying they have no coverage in your house but then T-Mobile phones would suddenly have no battery life the more you relied on it.

  • CoCo

    I once was told (in a town hall meeting) that it takes 4-5 months longer to make and pass the FCC for a phone with UMA capabilities. Maybe that’s why, with the envelope being pushed quickly now-a-days with the better and faster phones being put out this would make sense. That being said i think some new high end phones should come with it. Hell they usually put out updates a month or two after the phone releases anyways. So even it it was a tad bit behind the high-end curve a update could solve this problem. IE Android update ect..

    • Ted C.

      That doesn’t pass the sniff test to me… The FCC doesn’t regulate protocols for the most part. And since UMA is entirely a signaling implementation I sincerely doubt that the FCC would step into this at all. Some interesting notes about UMA (now referred to as GAN for Generic Access Network):
      - As of 2008 it supports data handoffs as well as voice
      - While some have commented that using Wifi may negatively impact battery life GAN actually makes it possible for implementations to turn off the cellular radio while “roaming” on WiFi which can have a dramatic impact since it allows only one radio to be on at a time. VOIP can’t do this!
      - VoLGA (Voice over LTE Generic Access) is a version of GAN that allows GSM equipment to operate over LTE and was finalized late in 2009 or early this year (can’t remember)
      - The 3GPP (which is the group responsible for the UMA/GAN standard) announced earlier this year the development of a generic smartphone app for GAN. That should mean general availability of GAN-based smartphone apps in the next 12 months!

  • Happywith339

    “Wifi and battery life don’t mix well together.”

    I’ve not had any problems with battery life on my t339 with Wi-Fi running all day and making calls all day via UMA when at home. I do make it a habit of charging the phone every night, as my consulting business depends on my phone working. Maybe the T-Mobile Linksys router I got for FREE after rebate from T-Mobile is superior with UMA devices for power management? Anyway, it just works.

  • Nath12

    Great posts by everyone. I sincerely hope uma gets to my Vibrant, even without cell to wi-fi handover it would help tremendously!

  • manny

    keep uma alive

  • TMo in FL

    Not only is UMA a great feature for those in the US who don’t have the best coverage but, as has been alluded to by some previous posters, one of the best uses of this feature is while someone is traveling internationally.

    When I say that I don’t mean to make international calls, you’d still get charged for making an international call as if you were in the US. What I am saying is that for an international organization who has over 50 lines with T-Mobile, three quarters of which are Blackberries of some flavor (on Blackberry Enterprise Server Express…oh so nice), most of those staff traveling internationally, we save a boatload of money. Sure you need a solid internet connection but you’d be surprised the places you can find sufficient bandwidth. To be able to make calls using UMA and have them count as if you were in the US and not have it cost extra (only takes away from your available minutes) is a huge undersold benefit (plug for the Unlmited Blackberry International Data Roaming feature here which can be scheduled to turn on and off and is prorated…only $20 a month, yet another huge cost savings!).

    I’ll gladly say that we are an enterprise customer who is happy with T-Mobile and one of the reasons why is UMA!

  • Former TMO

    This article is spot on. In my condo, I got no reception with Tmo almost 80% of the time(other 20% was when I was near my patio window). UMA helped out tremendously. I was able to get reception just fine. I got off contract in May but really wanted a phone that wasn’t another blackberry, and unfortunately I had no options for an android phone. Since nothing was officially announced or upcoming for a UMA android phone, I decided to leave Tmobile for Sprint just 2 1/2 weeks ago(got the Evo).

    I was with Tmobile for over 8 years, and I had a pretty good plan and for the most part I liked their customer service. I just really wanted a change in phones and unfortunately I had no options since UMA isn’t on any of the high end android phones.

    Bottom line, unless they implements UMA in new phones, upgrading to a new high end smartphone with TMobile isn’t an option for some of us who have spotty reception. Other carriers have devices to boost reception on their android phones if necessary(Sprint with the Air rave and ATT with the Microcell), so why doesn’t Tmobile?

  • Animate

    UMA is the one feature I really miss from y BB8900 when I switched to my Vibrant. I went to the mountains a few months ago and Tmobile service was noexistent in the cabin. but they had a wireless connections. Other than people flooding the router with laptops I had pretty reliable connection on my BB when I was connected.

    Praying Android gets UMA or at least a similar feature.

  • Spineless

    I will only buy UMA enabled phones. We have virtually zero T-Mobile coverage where I live, and that is about 1 mile from the T-Mobile headquarters in Bellevue, WA!!!

    I have no desire to switch to any of the other carriers because I feel that they are even more over-priced than T-Mobile. So until T-Mobile releases smartphones other than Blackberries with UMA, we will be sticking with our Blackberries.

  • Josh

    Preach, preacher! Maybe now T-Mobile will come to the altar and get right. Hope so…

  • Bruce

    Don’t forget 911 safety!

    My wife, daughter and I share a 700 minute plan and only use half of those minutes every month thanks to UMA. We have no land-line. My wife stays home and her phone is connected to the router so none of those calls count against the 700 minutes. If she should have to call 911, it will pop up on their screen as a physical address, not a wandering cell phone. That is because the call goes through the router.

    Battery life? If she makes a lot of calls, she has to charge her phone overnight. With normal call volume, her UMA phone lasts two days. UMA is very battery efficient.

    We will stay with T-Mobile as long as we can keep UMA. If they get rid of it, we’ll be gone.

    • mikeeeee

      @bruce.

      plain vanilla UMA phones are really cheap on ebay.

      • http://CellEscape.com Sharon

        A variety of used UMA phones are available for free at Cell Escape. You get a phone, a short term contact (also used) and avoid the usual $35 activation fee. You can choose your own phone number and downgrade the plan to what ever suits you, or roll it into your family Plan for $10/month.

  • Yukiyu

    When you visit the Issue 6242: UMA enable Android OS you could see there’s a lot of people asking Google to add this item to Android Phones. Let’s make some noise. Visit Google and tell them how important it is to get involved in this UMA feature with T-Mobile.

    http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=6242

    No UMA support on Android remains the sole reason I haven’t moved from my Blackberry. When Android get this UMA feature, Blackberry eventually died. So, problably there’s money running under the table to stop it make it happen. No other logical explanation. But the customer want it!!! I estimate more than 60% of the people doesn’t know about UMA, and how it works. If they address this issue, they could get a lot more of customers.

    Over 400 people asking for UMA on Droids in this ISSUE 6242. Google, do the math!!! $200 aprox. each unit. EIGHTY THOUSAND DOLLAR IN ANDROID PHONE SALES!!!

    400 on a two years agreement paying $50 (obviously, will be higher). T-Mobile do the math!!! HALF A MILLION DOLLAR!!!

    This is a Win-Win situation here for both of you. Nobody can’t lose… well, RIM does. BUT WHO CARES?

  • Cu2cool

    Yes, I would definitly love this on my HD2 or next upgrade. But please bring it to HD2! Otherwise, if on Android I will dual boot with Android. =)

  • deckrider

    After my Blackberry Curve died, I got a myTouch 3G 1.2. I like the myTouch, but UMA is one of the huge things I miss:

    When out snowboarding, with UMA I could easily have coverage at Arapahoe Basin (Colorado Ski Resort) where there is little coverage from any carrier–just by connecting to the free WiFi in the lodge.

  • http://funwithandroid.blogspot.com/ ambarish

    Hi David,
    Agree with your post completely. Android is what made me move to T-Mo. I am sure it will make others move to it in the future (bcoz TMo does a pretty good job with their plans and data rates). Would be nice it TMo also pushed Android more – in particular with UMA support.

    Ambarish

  • upnorth85

    I have had UMA service for many years now. I too delayed getting my latest BlackBerry 9700 because I was hoping to get an Android phone with UMA. With BB having dumped its loyal T-mobile customers (first for Storm and then for Torch), my loyalty to BB is dead. I am currently in China and call my family daily using the UMA feature and have a local phone for local calls. I use connectify to set up a personal hotspot on my Windows 7 laptop. I have stopped using mmagic jack when I go overseas. I have been with T-mobile for over 8 years now. I am surprised how few people outside of T-mobile know about the wonderful UMA feature. Other than Rogers in Canada, not many providers provide UMA.

  • http://twitter.com/PA_Monika Monika Szenk

    Any news on the UMA on other smart phones or networks? I love my UMA i use it at work no one even Verizon has converge in ER or some other areas in the hospital but I do so I can be reached anywhere I am for emergencies. I could use a bigger screen then my BB Curve for reading CMA articles.
    Was hoping iPhone or other smartphones like Android would have it but looks like BB is the only one and T-mobile is also the only one that provides it.