Nearly-Free Cell Phone Service?

This isn’t really related to coding or development, but what the hell — thought I’d write about it anyway.

One of the founders of Skype is starting a company called FreedomPop.com.  It’s a $99 sleeve for your iPhone 4/4S which provides some extra battery life and an Internet connection.  You get the first 500 MB per month for free, and pay $10 for every gigabyte after that.

So my first thought was: could I just cut off my cell service entirely, and use Skype for phone service over the data connection? I hardly ever use the actual phone anyway, and when I do I’m almost always at home where I have WiFi.  Looking at my last month’s data plan usage, I was only around 350 MB (since again, I’m almost always near a WiFi connection).  So theoretically, I could have just canceled my cell phone plan.  Even if I used triple the data and made a fair number more phone calls, I’d still be looking at $10 for the data, plus $3/mo for unlimited calling to US and Canada through Skype.

That’s almost $100/month savings, so the FreedomPop sleeve would nearly pay for itself in the very first month, and I’d be saving $1200 per year.  If a new contract-less phone costs $600 and you want to upgrade once every 2 years, that’s still an average savings of $1000/year (assuming that same phone would cost $200 with a 2-year contract).

FreedomPop is not yet out, but when it comes out, I am seriously considering doing this.  I think this is where cell phones are going anyway — in fact, I’ve heard that some cell providers are going to experiment with offering data-only plans.

I’ve actually considered doing something like this before — ditching my phone in favor of my iPad and just using Skype with that.  I actually tested this last year in Costa Rica. The house I stayed in had WiFi, so I just used Skype there instead of getting an international call plan, and it worked like a charm.  However, the iPad isn’t handy to carry around like a phone is, so I never made that leap.  But with things like the FreedomPop sleeve coming out… I am very tempted.

As another note, Google Voice and Skype still don’t handle picture messages, so one downside of this plan would be that there is no good way (yet) to get SMS messages, unless you’re on an iOS device and sending to another iOS device (in which case you will be using iMessage).

Update (2013-05-17): FreedomPop has partnered with Sprint for 4G service.  This does cost a bit extra ($4/mo), but it has coverage wherever Sprint has coverage. The mobile hotspots that allow for this are back-ordered, but I have placed myself in queue for one.  The FreedomPop sleeve is still currently tied up in FCC approval, but the hotspots have been available for a while now.


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6 Responses to Nearly-Free Cell Phone Service?

  1. Thanks — I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with it, but I am considering this. It is a pretty big step, but on the plus side I could test it out first by getting the sleeve, then keeping my phone in airplane mode for a month or so. Main annoyance would be giving out a new phone number to all of my contacts (or at least, the ones that don’t already use my Google Voice number).

    • From how it sounds, its a smart idea all around. Your slight problem with SMS could be easily fixed though. Just have them sent to your email or make an emil that is just going to handle SMS directly. In honesty i think I have seen you on your phone for a collective of…..45 min tops this month alone. I will have to keep my eyes open to see when this will get launched because again, from how you explained it, it really seems like the smartest move to do.

      • It’s generally a pain for people to have a phone number plus an email, and remember to send picture messages to an email address. I’m sure there’s a technical reason that Google Voice can’t offer MMS, but if they could find a way past whatever technical hurdle that is, I’d be willing to pay a few bucks a month for it — maybe $5 if it came bundled with a few other goodies.

        And yeah, I’d say about 90% of the few voice conversations I do have are in the presence of home WiFi, so that wouldn’t even count against the monthly data.

        There are projections that FreedomPop will launch around September when the new iPhone comes out, but I haven’t heard anything solid (and it’d also mean they’d either have to have a new form factor to support the iPhone 5, or just not support the latest and greatest).

  2. You can program your ATT number to forward to another number. Do that and cut your minutes down.

  3. I’ve got no problem with minutes — in fact, I hardly use any. If my dad didn’t call me once per day, I’d probably use less than 10 minutes per month, in fact. I do have a problem with the $105/month cell phone bill, though. :) (That’s with the smallest minutes package available.)

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