Last week AT&T announced their 3G Microcell, which as Todd wrote about, provides a little cell tower in your house for $150. The device uses the Internet to send and receive calls and data services, which are then transmitted to the phone using the same wireless frequency as AT&T’s cell towers. As far as your mobile phone is concerned, it thinks it is connected to a regular cell tower. With the microcell you will be able to use a mobile phone in areas where AT&T’s network does not provide good coverage.
When I read about AT&T’s microcell last week I thought to myself that I wish T-Mobile would provide a micocell for their network. T-Mobile’s network coverage is not the best at my house, and it barely stays connected when I am in the basement of my home, which is were my home office is located. A while back I bought a cell phone signal booster that I have on the main floor of our condo, but I find it provides marginally better service on the main floor.
T-Mobile actually used to provide something similar to AT&T’s microcell, called Hotspot @Home. Unlike AT&T’s microcell that uses the same cellular technology that all AT&T mobile phones work with, T-Mobile’s Hotspot @Home used a technology called Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) that works with Wi-Fi networks. To use T-Mobile’s service you needed a phone and Wi-Fi router that both supported UMA. T-Mobile sold a limited number of phones that supported UMA, none that included Windows Mobile or Android. While Hotspot @Home would have fixed my cell phone connection problems at home, to use it meant getting new phones for both myself and my wife, and subscription to the @Home service. The Hotspot @Home service never caught on, and T-Mobile recently stopped selling it.
It occurred to me while I was wondering whether T-Mobile would ever sell a microcell, that Google might provide a solution to my problem. Back in November Google aquired Gizmo5, a company that provided Internet-based calling software for mobile phones and computers. If you haven’t heard of Gizmo5, it was a competitor to Skype. I set up a Gizmo5 account a few years ago when I bought the Nokia N800, which had a Gizmo5 client, and I found that it worked very well on the N800. When I used it to make calls, the people on the other end of the call noticed little difference with the phone quality.
Google has not made statements about what they are going to do with Gizmo5, but the reasonable assumption is that its technology will eventually be integrated into Google Voice. I am hoping that Google adds Gizmo5’s Voice over IP technology to Google Voice so that I could use my Google Voice number to send and receive calls via a Wi-Fi connection when I am at home. Here is how I wish for it to work. Whenever my Nexus One, which has Google Voice integrated, is on a Wi-Fi network, incoming calls to my Google Voice number would automatically route to my Nexus One over the Internet and to the phone via Wi-Fi. Likewise, any outbound calls from my phone would go over the Wi-Fi and Internet connection.
Keep in mind that Google Voice works with any Android smartphone on all of the mobile networks, so the functionality I describe above would help with any carrier’s deadzones, particularly in homes. For the most seamless experience you would need an Android phone, and Google could promote the functionality as another benefit of Android. Why buy a $150 microcell to fix a carrier’s problem when you can get the same functionality for free from Google?