Is T-Mobile Backing Away From UMA?

The other day someone asked me why, in this era of Android (s goog) and iOS (s aapl), I insist on carrying around a BlackBerry (s rimm). I could offer many reasons — one being that the BlackBerry keyboard makes sifting through email and replying to instant and text messages easy — but the biggest reason for me is the Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) technology on my T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold.

UMA allows me to make and receive phone calls and receive text messages over Wi-Fi. When traveling overseas, I can make cheap phone calls to U.S. phones without worrying about overages. Given T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi HotSpot network, UMA can be pretty useful in areas where T-Mobile’s cellular network has spotty coverage. I’ve often used my MiFi as a way to do work around the holes in the T-Mobile’s network. In fact, UMA is the primary reason why I stick with T-Mobile.

However, this very useful technology isn’t getting much love from T-Mobile. The U.S. arm of the German phone giant is a big supporter of Google’s Android OS, and last week, when I asked a T-Mobile USA representative if there were plans to add UMA to Android phones, he said T-Mobile will continue to support UMA on the current and forthcoming BlackBerry devices and Nokia E73. That’s four models in total. In other words, T-Mobile has no plans on adding UMA to Android phones.

The falling fortunes of UMA are the polar opposite of T-Mobile’s strategy four years ago when the fourth largest U.S. carrier was touting the Wi-Fi/Cellular hybrid service as the next big thing. A spokesperson said that now that lower-cost, flat-rate, all-you-can-eat voice plans were commonplace, it didn’t make much sense for the company to keep pushing its UMA service.

I think the Seattle-based carrier is making a mistake. I think UMA is a good way to overcome networks that are less than stellar. With the growing presence of Wi-Fi in our modern lives, I think T-Mobile is missing an opportunity. It could use UMA on Android as a way to stand out against its competitors.

What do you think?

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