I’ve gotten a lot of questions in the last couple of months about how I rigged together a couple of different technologies to cut my phone bill in half. Let me just say first, I was not the first person to do this. I remember in the last year, seeing a post online (probably at Lifehacker) about how someone had done this same thing. But, it wasn’t until the recession hit hard and I got my phone bill in the mail, that I seriously thought about doing something radical.
I had an iPhone 3G. And since I didn’t like contracts, I had been using it as a GoPhone. Something I had been doing since the first generation iPhone came out. Don’t ask me how I was able to get an iPhone activated as a GoPhone. It was early days of the iPhone. I had heard online that it was possible. I remember spending so much time at the local AT&T store on the phone with their tech support, that I ended up sitting on the floor until they were able to make my IMEI # get recognized as a GoPhone. I swore I was going to send a gift card to the tech who got it working. But, I never got around to it.
My last bill from AT&T was $90. It had been in the high 80’s for some time. But, there was something psychological about hitting the number 9 that made me move. That’s when I started thinking about how I really use my phone. I rarely use the voice feature of my phone. When it comes to talking to friends, it’s usually over text. The only times I talked on the phone was when I was speaking with my Mom, my Grandparents, or my boss. I knew this about myself, so I had been on the lowest voice plan AT&T had when I joined. 450 minutes. Despite this, over the last couple of years, I had been routinely been getting texts warning me that I was losing my rollover minutes (Yes, they expire!).
So, I’m not a talker. What do I use my phone for? Like many people these days, texting and data are what define a phone. When I still had a car, I had rigged my phone to my dash to stream Pandora and other terrestrial radio stations to my car radio. I’m what you call a data hog. And I’m probably the one person responsible for AT&T’s poor reception in certain areas of Colorado. I’m sure I routinely went over the soft cap of 5GB per month. But, I was never capped. Who knows why. Maybe I was grandfathered in.
After I received that $90 bill, I started to look around for better deals. I could have gone to another carrier. Or even back to my first carrier, Cricket. But, I wanted to stay with the iPhone. I’ve spent a lot of money on apps. And honestly, I liked the experience. I dabbled with the idea of exploring Android, and I still might, but decided to put that plan on hold for a little while. Virgin Mobile made news around this same time by offering an unlimited data plan. I remembered that I had heard about someone pairing an iPhone or iPod Touch with a Verizon Mifi. A Mifi is a little device, about the size of a credit card and as thick as about 4 cards, that converts the 3G signal from a cell carrier to wifi. The battery lasts about 4 hours.
I had already sold my car by the time I got serious about this. And Virgin Mobile listed their Mifi as sold out online. I eventually found a Best Buy near Littleton that swore they had two. So, I took the Light rail (I live in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver) down to Littleton. I rode my bike the last 25% of the way there. I picked up what I suspect was the last Mifi in the Denver Metro area at the time.
I’ve since sold my iPhone in favor of an new iPod Touch. I wanted the new features and faster processor that the touch offers. I know what your asking. How can I use an iPod Touch as a phone? So, after all that, we come to the meat of the matter.
How I did it:
*The Virgin Mobile Mifi is my data connection. For $40 a month for unlimited data, I can pair my iPod Touch via Wifi to connect to the internet and make phone calls. I’ve since found an extended battery from China that gives me 12 hours of battery life. Now, my Touch often dies before the Mifi.
*32GB iPod Touch is my new “Phone”. It’s essentially an iPhone without the cellular radios inside. It also doesn’t have GPS. But, that’s another long winded blog post.
*The Phone: I started using Skype. But, quickly found the call quality horrible. I’ve since moved onto a service called Line2. The call quality is superior to Skype. And if you opt for their Unlimited plan for $15 a month, you can make your Google Voice # show up as outbound caller ID. There is an iphone app and they offer unlimited minutes and texting.
*Google Voice: The main number I give out is my Google Voice Number. It’s amazingly flexible. If I don’t pickup, calls are transcribed (often comically) and emailed to me. And if it’s more convenient for me, I can respond to texts via email.
So, was it worth it? I think so. My phone bill has dropped from $90 to $55 a month. Sure, I have to carry to devices in my pocket. But, I’m a bit geeky anyway. And I love it when I have my laptop with me. I no longer have to worry about finding a hotspot. Something, I wasn’t really doing anyway. I had jailbroken my iPhone to allow tethering. 🙂
There are a few downsides. The major one is that if I want to make a call, I have to put my headphones in. The Touch doesn’t really support bluetooth in that way. But, I always have headphones in listening to something. So, for me at least, not a big deal. And the other is the Mifi. It’s had a few problems. It hiccups every so often. Sometimes, it requires a restart. But, it’s running quite a bit better lately. When I first got it, I ended up in the setup screen almost daily. It took the majority of a day sitting on the phone with their tech support in India to get it working again. So, the small problems I have now, don’t seem so bad.
I don’t know how long I’ll stick with this setup. It works for now. But, I can see a time maybe a few years from now, when I venture back to a regular phone. Maybe. Technology moves fast. So, who knows what I’ll be using in 2-3 years. 😉