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It was a reasonable idea, after all: by providing a reliable service inside the home, a cellphone could replace the stalwart landline, whose only technological advantage in 2007 was reliability and voice quality.Built on the little-used UMA standard, the service shipped on a couple of specially Wi-Fi-equipped mid-range featurephones and was promptly forgotten. Suddenly Bill Nye's disembodied head is floating across your screen, with 1s and 0s streaming in and out of his ears. Instead your carrier confronts some laws of physics and gets those 1s and 0s from the little brick in your hand to a cellular tower that's miles away, which then sends the call over a mess of wires, pipes, and lines that dates back to Alexander Graham Bell himself.

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While connecting a call over UMA can have its own problems (like latency, or Wi-Fi interference), there aren't any jumps or transfers the call has to make — it's just a straight data transfer between the phone and T-Mobile's data center.

That means that nothing in that legacy tangle of phone system can get in the way of functionality or quality of service that T-Mobile wants to provide, and, of course, it means that the best pipe wins.

UMA stands for "Unlicensed Mobile Access," and describes any method of taking a voice or data connection and sending it over an "unlicensed" internet connection (anything that's not the carrier's own network) straight into the carrier's nerve center, where it's switched into the regular phone network.

Security is maintained due to the unique SIM in each GSM phone.

Instead of routing your voice call directly through the internet, a femtocell device pretends to be a real cell tower, which captures your phone calls and then... Cost is a bit of a crapshoot: if you don't wrangle a freebie from a kind customer service rep, some of the carriers will actually charge you for the device — which can be as much as $350.

As odd as these Wi-Fi-avoidance contortions might sound right now in the early days of 2012, they're going to get really silly as Verizon and AT&T implement "Vo LTE" (Voice over LTE, pronounced "voltie") later this year — in fact, Verizon allegedly has a couple trial Vo LTE markets up and running.After Hot Spot @ Home launched in 2007 to little fanfare, as a monthly landline-killer, two things happened to vindicate T-Mobile's strategy: T-Mobile remains the lone major proponent of Wi-Fi calling in the US, despite the fact that UMA is an open standard (which AT&T, as the other GSM carrier in the US, could easily implement), and the fact that there was a CDMA version of UMA in the works as far back as 2005.But even T-Mobile is a little bashful in promoting its service, confirming to me that the feature would "never" be a top-line of an ad campaign."The reality of radio networks in general is that there's no such thing as a perfect radio network," Josh confessed, in his moment of weakness."It's impossible and that's driven by physics, how cell sites work, economics, land use restrictions, and practical aspects like 'you just can't put a tower in everyone's backyard.'" Exactly.Unless, of course, you use T-Mobile's Wi-Fi calling service.

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