UMA: Routing your BlackBerry calls over Wi-Fi

The sheer volume of your responses to my column about solutions for people who live or work in poor mobile reception areas continues to amaze me.

UMA: Routing your BlackBerry calls over Wi-Fi

The networks all claim to have 99 point something-or-other percent population coverage, but it seems that a remarkable number of PC Pro readers live in that fraction of a percentage point that the networks don’t reach.

UMA stands for Unlicensed Mobile Access, so you can see why Orange prefers to use the initialism

This month, I’m looking in a bit more detail at UMA, the black-spot solution available from Orange here in the UK. UMA stands for Unlicensed Mobile Access, so you can see why Orange prefers to use the initialism.

I’m deliberately using the term “initialism” rather than “acronym”, because despite UMA being easy to pronounce (as in the delightful Ms Thurman) most mobile comms people prefer to spell it out U, M, A. Perhaps they learned their lesson when someone tried to pronounce GSM.

Wi-Fi solution

A quick recap for those who haven’t read the previous columns: UMA allows you to route your phone calls over Wi-Fi, but unlike other VoIP solutions it’s tightly integrated into the mobile network, so incoming calls to your normal mobile number are routed via Wi-Fi, and likewise your outgoing calls appear to the recipient as coming from you rather than some obscure VoIP provider.

It’s just as if you’re properly connected to the mobile network, which indeed you are. Of course, since the calls are handed off into the depths of Orange’s network, it’s important to remember that you’ll be charged for them exactly as if you’d called over the mobile network – your normal monthly call bundle still applies, though, so most people won’t be subject to any additional charge.

Neither will their texts, data or BlackBerry-specific stuff such as PIN messages, because unlike traditional VoIP services UMA has these covered too.

You can just pitch up somewhere with zero mobile coverage and still be able to use all the normal functions on your phone, and the best thing about UMA is that there’s nothing else to buy – so long as you have Wi-Fi and a phone that supports UMA.

Incidentally, I wrote a couple of months ago that I’d been struggling to get help from Orange’s PR people for my UMA test. I’m pleased to report that’s all sorted now.

Its PR office was being inundated with enquiries about the T-Mobile merger and several new hot handsets such as the HTC Desire, so they were all worked off their feet. They’re now fully on board with my testing and I’d like to thank them for their help and patience!

Closer look

Let’s take a closer look at UMA running on my BlackBerry Bold 9700, which is the best UMA phone I’ve used so far.

BlackBerry Bold

The first thing to note is that the handset needs to be set up to run UMA: it needs to know the name of the servers to connect to within Orange’s network.

This is normally done at the factory as part of the provisioning process, and UMA-compatible phones supplied by Orange should already be UMA-enabled.

However, if you buy an unlocked phone from somewhere like eBay, or even an off-the-shelf phone from certain independent shops, it might not have the right internal settings. My advice if you’re thinking about using UMA is to make sure the phone comes in an Orange box, and (for most phones) has Orange branding.

For BlackBerry phones it’s easy to tell whether the device is set up for UMA by going to Setup | Options | Mobile Network – if you see an option on that screen between Data Services and Mobile Network that says “Connection Preference” then you know the device is UMA-ready. If you don’t, it’s possible to “hack” the phone to enable UMA, but it isn’t a task for the faint-hearted.

If you look at that Connection Preference setting you’ll see that it has four options: Mobile Network Only means that UMA will be ignored and all texts and phone calls will go over GSM or 3G; Mobile Network Preferred means the phone will try to use the mobile network but if it can’t get a reliable signal it will fall back to UMA (assuming there’s a Wi-Fi signal); Wi-Fi Only does pretty much what it says, so the phone will ignore the mobile network; and finally Wi-Fi Preferred will use UMA if there’s a Wi-Fi signal within range, if not it will use the mobile network. This last is probably the best setting for most people.

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