Mobile operators for the most part agree that they need to remove data traffic from their networks, but their approaches to addressing the situation differ. Using WiFi offload is one option, but many have expressed concerns over the impact on the user experience. However, one U.S. mobile operator has adopted a novel way of both offloading data and improving in-building coverage, while at the same time making it easy for the end user.

T-Mobile USA has deployed the Smart Wi-Fi application from Kineto Wireless, which automatically activates when the user is in range of a wireless network; the app turns on the WiFi radio in the handset, registers with the WFi network, then turns off the cellular radio.

The app launched late last year and is already live on 5 million handsets on the T-Mobile USA network.

“It's a consistent success,” Josh Lonn, director of product marketing at T-Mobile USA told Total Telecom on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress on Wednesday, explaining that the app integrates the WiFi hotspot with the T-Mobile network, providing a consistent user experience. “It's effectively part of the phone,” he said.

The operator bills for the voice minutes the customer uses on the WiFi network, but data usage is free and does not form part of the customer's monthly limit.

T-Mobile USA's prime motivation for adopting the application is to improve indoor coverage. “Any operator that says they have a perfect radio network would be lying,” Lonn said.

The company explored the possibility of using femtocells, but ultimately decided against investing in the technology.

“It made much more sense,” to go with WiFi, Lonn said. He agreed with Kineto Wireless VP of product marketing Steve Shaw's assertion that femtocells are “too much hassle” for the end user and only solve the coverage issue in one location. “We're putting it on the device side rather than something that plugs into the wall,” Lonn said.

However, Shaw sees his company's WiFi offload app as something that could co-exist with femtocells. The femtocell is a good customer retention tool for operators, he said: the operator can ship a femtocell to a disgruntled customer overnight in