T-Mobile HotSpot: Wireless Internet Service Review

As someone who rarely works from home, I find myself taking advantage of wireless internet at libraries, coffeeshops, restaurants, and even public parks. While free wi-fi is offered at some of my hangouts, many businesses belong to a national network for paid wireless internet service. Such is the case with Starbucks, at whose ubiquitous locations I often find myself with a laptop and a latte. In fact, T-Mobile is the wireless internet service provider for the majority of Starbucks, Kinkos, and Borders locations – so I figured I’d try a T-Mobile HotSpot subscription.

The following is my review of T-Mobile’s HotSpot wireless internet service.

As of April 2006, T-Mobile HotSpot subscriptions come in four types, two of which are monthly plans. For $40 a month, you can connect to T-Mobile HotSpots without any time limits or long-term commitments. It’s basically a month-to-month contract. Of course, if you are willing to be tied down for a one-year contract, the monthly price drops to $30. That means a possible annual savings of $120 if you’re sure that you’ll use a T-Mobile HotSpot for at least a year. In addition to these two monthly options, T-Mobile offers a one-day pass and a by-the-minute service, neither of which is incredibly cost-effective.

After scanning the terms and conditions, I decided to sign up for the 12-month plan at $30 a month – because there’s an option to cancel during the first 30 days without being responsible for a whole year. And that’s just what I did. After only a week of using T-Mobile HotSpot service, primarily at various Starbucks locations, I cancelled my subscription.

Why, you ask?

Well, it didn’t take me long to encounter minor but persistent frustrations. Given the fact that I have used a wide variety of free wi-fi services in the Milwaukee area without incident, I know that wireless shouldn’t require much in the way of effort or additional steps. But with T-Mobile HotSpot service, I found that a number of my frequently visited sites, some secure [https://] and some not [http://], wouldn’t load. After poking around on T-Mobile’s support site, I learned that this is a common problem. The solution? Every time I enter a new HotSpot after being somewhere else (even a different T-Mobile HotSpot), I would either need to restart my computer, run a command script, or possibly both. For people like me who hibernate their computers instead of shutting down all the programs and restarting several times a day, that’s really inconvenient. And even though it’s easy to run scripts, who wants to bother with that?

Other reasons the T-Mobile HotSpot service may not be worthwhile? Here’s a list:

1. They don’t have *that* many participating locations. And eventually Starbucks gets boring. For $30 (or more) a month, it may not be a wise investment month after month.
2. There appears to be a technical problem with T-Mobile HotSpot service at some Starbucks locations. As you may or may not be aware, the Seattle coffee company is making a foray into the world of breakfast food. And apparently the TurboChef ovens they’re using interrupt the wi-fi signal. For more information, check out this excellent website by a couple of engineers who discovered the problem and have been working with T-Mobile on a resolution: http://www.tmobiledoesntworkatstarbucks.org/. The problem seems to be worse with 802.11b wireless.
3. The above technical problem can affect not only breakfast-serving Starbucks locations but also any T-Mobile HotSpot close enough to a Subway restaurant, which apparently uses the same ovens.
4. Although it’s not necessary, they ask you to download Connection Manager software, an entirely unnecessary program (in my opinion).
5. Customer service was not very friendly. I called to cancel, citing my concerns with the service, and the woman who took my call was, shall we say, snippy.
6. As urban areas begin to offer city-wide wi-fi services, perhaps T-Mobile HotSpot service will fall by the wayside. In the meantime, there are plenty of places with reliable wireless service that is cost-free and hassle-free.

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