Orange’s UMA offers enhanced reception at home for BlackBerry phones

January 29th, 2011

Orange’s free “Signal Boost” (UMA) service allows BlackBerry users to route all of your calls and texts through their home wi-fi connection.

If you currently struggle to maintain a mobile signal at home, Orange’s “Signal Boost” (UMA) service aims to give you a more reliable service at home by routing all of your calls and texts through your home wi-fi connection. With standard smartphone technology, it is fairly commonplace for people to connect their smartphone to a wi-fi network for faster and more reliable web browsing. UMA takes this one step further and allows customers to route their calls and texts through the same wi-fi connection. You’ll need a compatible smartphone to use UMA.

How much do calls and texts made through UMA cost?

Calls and texts made through UMA will cost the same as those made over the standard Orange network. Despite the fact that Orange are off-loading calls and texts onto your home broadband connection, no discount is provided for customers making calls through UMA. Pay Monthly customers will use minutes and texts from their monthly allowance and Pay As You Go customers will be charged for calls and texts according to Orange’s standard tariff.

Which phones are supported?

Orange currently offers 5 smartphones which are compatible with their UMA service. The range includes a range of BlackBerry devices and the Android-powered LG Optimus One:

Other smartphones sold by Orange (even those which can connect to wi-fi for browsing) will not support the UMA service. A full list of UMA-supporting smartphones can be found on the Smart Wi-Fi website. Please note that not all of these phones are sold in the UK.

Can I use my existing wi-fi enabled smartphone with UMA?

No. Whilst most smartphones can connect to a wi-fi network for an internet connection and web browsing, you’ll need a special UMA-compatible smartphone in order to route calls and texts over the wi-fi connection.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of smartphones sold today do not support UMA technology. The major exception is phones from BlackBerry: all of the latest releases (Torch, Bold, etc.) support UMA. A full list of UMA-supporting smartphones can be found on the Smart Wi-Fi website.

Do I need any extra hardware connected to the wireless modem?

No. Unlike femtocell services such as Vodafone Sure Signal, UMA can connect to a standard wi-fi network and route calls over it. This means there are no additional hardware requirements on the router-side. The disadvantage is that you’ll need a UMA-enabled phone (a femtocell is compatible with all 3G phones).

What are the requirements on my home broadband service?

The vast majority of home broadband connections should support UMA with no significant issues providing that you don’t simultaneously use your connection for other bandwidth-intensive activities such as P2P (BitTorrent, Spotify, etc) and voice-over-IP (Skype, Google Talk, etc). According to Orange, a phone call should use around 100Kb/s from your home broadband connection. Most home broadband connections should have an upstream speed of at least 256Kb/s – more than enough to carry a phone call.

Does web browsing through UMA count towards my download allowance?

Yes. If you browse the web through the UMA service, it will count towards your download limit (500MB for Dolphin, 750MB for Panther) as usual. You can avoid this by browsing the web using the wi-fi connection directly.

Can I use UMA whilst abroad?

According to the terms and conditions for Orange UMA, the UMA service cannot be used whilst abroad:

Signal Boost (UMA) will not connect to a wireless router whilst roaming abroad (however the handset will roam on the standard GSM network)

Although there is no technical reason why it should not be possible to use UMA abroad, Orange have disabled it’s use abroad due to worries about the “cannibalisation” of roaming revenues. Whilst there are some reports of people who have managed to use UMA abroad, we would strongly recommend against it. Orange charges up to £1.75/minute to make a call whilst abroad. If you happen to lose your UMA signal for even a few moments whilst abroad, your call will fall back onto a roaming service and you will be charged these ridiculously-high rates. Follow our best practice guide to using your mobile phone abroad to avoid extortionate roaming charges.

What are the alternatives to Orange UMA?

There are two key technologies available to improve your mobile phone reception at home:

  • Femtocells. A femtocell such as Vodafone Sure Signal creates a miniature 3G base station within your home. The femtocell will interface with your wi-fi router to send all of your calls and texts over your home broadband connection. The advantage of using a femtocell is that it is automatically compatible with all 3G phones; the disadvantage being that you’ll need to purchase an extra piece of hardware and connect it to the router.
  • UMA. With UMA technology, smartphones connect directly to a wi-fi router. Whilst this reduces the need for additional hardware and would allow you to use public hotspots, you’ll need a UMA-enabled phone. Unfortunately, very few phones are currently UMA-enabled.

In the UK, Orange and Vodafone offer solutions to improve mobile phone reception at home. Vodafone Sure Signal uses femtocell technology whilst Orange uses UMA technology.

Where can I find out more about Orange UMA?

There is more information about the UMA service on the Orange website.

    

Like this tip? Get the most from your mobile phone...

  • Discover brand new ways to use your mobile phone
  • Techniques to get more out of your mobile phone for less
  • Be the first to learn about new mobile technology

Enter your email to receive free regular Ken's Tech Tips:

About Ken

Ken Lo

I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.

Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 1 comment from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Robin Down said:

    Interesting advice re uma and roaming. Given that I have not opted into roaming for my phone, if a connection is dropped whilst connected by uma, I should simply lose the signal rather than incur roaming charges? I will be using the service from a cruise ship where from experience, the broadband signal is usually stable.

  2. Pete said:

    Came across your article on Signal Boost. I'm concerned about the part about browsing coming off the data allowance. Are you saying that you need to turn off Signal Boost in order to browse for free? It would be pretty bad as that means any access by the phone to update email etc would be chargable whilst signal boost is on. Note that Orange state that this is not the case.

Leave a Reply

E-Mail Notifications: By default, I'll drop you an e-mail when there's a reply to your comment. If you don't want to receive such a notification, please select the "Don't Subscribe" option from the dropdown menu above.