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BT unveils "Blackberry for consumers"

By Barry Collins

Posted on 7 May 2008 at 15:45

BT is trying to introduce consumers to the delights of Blackberry-style mobile email and web access.

Dubbed BT Total Broadband Anywhere, the service provides the company's broadband customers with a "free" HTC Windows Mobile smartphone to take outside of the home.

The smartphone will hook up to any BT Wi-Fi hotspot - including 80,000 BT FON hotspots - to make calls, download emails or surf the web. When outside of a hotspot zone, the smartphone reverts to dawdling GPRS on the Vodafone network.

BT is attempting to play-up the simplicity of the device, claiming that it is simple for users to synchronise their BT email, VoIP telephone service and calendar. "This is not a niche play," Warren Buckley, BT's group director of mobile and convergence told PC Pro at this afternoon's launch event. "Having email and calendar access is not something consumers are used to. In testing, that was something consumers were very attracted to."

Buckley foresees that customers may even sacrifice their ordinary mobile for the BT device. "Some customers [in trials] have taken the device and carried on using a mobile phone. A lot of people will try the device, and when their contract runs out they will move their mobile phone [service] to us."

When quizzed as to why customers would sacrifice existing smartphone devices for BT's, Buckley went on the offensive, claiming that Blackberry wasn't a mainstream product and that the iPhone had its flaws. "I love the iPhone, but have you ever tried writing an email on that?" he asked rhetorically.

No licence to roam

However, for all BT's talk of simplicity the service has a couple of notable complications of its own. If customers move out of a Wi-Fi hotspot during a phone conversation the phone will simply drop the call - it can't hand over from Wi-Fi to GSM, or between different Wi-Fi hotspots. "We've not introduced seamless handover this time," admitted Buckley, although he said it might be a possibility with future devices.

The entry level service also has incredibly stingy text, voice and data quotas. Customers are granted only 50 minutes of free calls and 50 minutes of free texts per month - although they can take advantage of free evening and weekend VoIP calls. And while downloads in Wi-Fi range are unlimited, on GPRS they are restricted to just 10MB per month before extra charges kick in.

The entry-level service does only cost £5 more than the standard BT Broadband Option 3, however, at £30 per month (or £24 per month for the first three months). Packages with more free calls and texts are available for a greater monthly fee.

HTC Handsets

BT has two HTC handsets at launch. The Blackberry-inspired HTC S620 has a full QWERTY keyboard and 2.4in display. The device comes free to customers willing to sign an 18-month contract.

The alternative device is the HTC S710, which boasts both a conventional numeric keypad and full slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It too has a 2.4in display and costs £30 up front, unless you're prepared to pay for one of the premium bundles with more free calls and texts.

When pressed on whether there was any difference in the technical capabilities of the two handsets, a BT spokesman rather candidly admitted that the S710 "just looks better".

Going further than Fusion

BT Total Broadband Anywhere isn't the first time the company has tried dual GSM/Wi-Fi phones, of course. It launched its Fusion service with ambitious growth targets in 2005, but recently admitted that consumer sales have been disappointing.

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