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re: Cell Phones and Political Surveys: Part I

Topics: Cell Phones

An intriguing footnote to the first part of my post on the cell-phone-only problem (alas, a shortened yet crowded week has pushed Part II until next week). The bottom line is that even at 12% of adults, the cell-phone-only population appears neither large nor distinctive enough to throw off most political survey results by more than a point or two. And while that conclusion may not change drastically should the cell-phone only population double over the next year or two, all bets if "cell phone only" comes to describe the majority of U.S. households (a point reader Chris G made in the comments).

Could that happen? An article yesterday by The New York Times' technology writer, David Pogue, suggests a potential pathway. Last week, the cell-phone carrier T-Mobile announced a new service called T-Mobile HotSpot @Home, something Pogue described as an "absolutely ingenious" and as potentially "game changing" to the technology world as Apple's iPhone. "It could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars a year," he wrote, "and yet enrich T-Mobile at the same time." How?

Here's the basic idea. If you're willing to pay $10 a month on top of a regular T-Mobile voice plan, you get a special cellphone. When you're out and about, it works like any other phone; calls eat up your monthly minutes as usual.

But when it's in a Wi-Fi wireless Internet hot spot, this phone offers a huge bargain: all your calls are free. You use it and dial it the same as always - you still get call hold, caller ID, three-way calling and all the other features - but now your voice is carried by the Internet rather than the cellular airwaves.

These phones hand off your calls from Wi-Fi network to cell network seamlessly and automatically, without a single crackle or pop to punctuate the switch.

And what does this have to do with the cell-phone only problem? Read on...

O.K., but how often are you in a Wi-Fi hot spot? With this plan, about 14 hours a day. T-Mobile gives you a wireless router (transmitter) for your house - also free, after a $50 rebate. Connect it to your high-speed Internet modem, and in about a minute, you've got a wireless home network. Your computer can use it to surf the Web wirelessly - and now all of your home phone calls are free.

You know how people never seem to have good phone reception in their homes? How they have to huddle next to a window to make calls? That's all over now. The free router is like a little T-Mobile cell tower right in your house.

Pogue goes on to explain that HotSpot @Home will work with essentially any existing Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) router. What could this mean for the cell-phone-only problem? In outlining four ways this product can save consumers money, Pogue does everything but connect the dots:

SAVING NO. 4 T-Mobile's hope is that you'll cancel your home phone line altogether. You'll be all cellphone, all the time. And why not, since you'll now get great cell reception at home and have only one phone number and voicemail? Ka-ching: there's an additional $500 a year saved.

While the new Apple iPhone, which went on sale last week, does not aim to replace home phone service, it does provide a very similar hand-off from the AT&T wireless network to home or office Wi-Fi hotspots for its built in Internet connection. If these features prove popular with consumers, if HotSpot@Home "enriches" T-Mobile as Pogue speculates, then other cell-phone carriers (with the possible exception of Verizon) are sure to offer similar services.

And if that happens, pollsters may look back with great nostalgia on the days when the cell-phone-only population was just 12%.

UPDATE: A very alert survey researcher emails and notes that the Pogue column is "the #1 most e-mailed story on the New York Times web site today!"

 

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