The first problem we fixed was the cell service. Since Mita and I both have google voice accounts, we bought an OBITalk box for about $37 on amazon, and set it up with google voice, following the instructions on their website. The sound quality is FANTASTIC (I'm surprised by how much more I call my parents now that the phone connection is good), calls to the USA are free, and long distance is very cheap. I wish I'd done this years ago for the quality alone. I set up both of our numbers, and went a little ways into the "expert settings" to make it so when people call me it rings one way, and when they call her, it rings another way. Similarly, her number is set as the primary line to call out, so if you pick up the phone and call, the recipient's caller ID says her number, and if you press **1 and dial, it shows me.
The cellphones needed a little more creativity, but the savings are impressive. We have Verizon phones, so we decided to switch to PagePlus cellular's $12/month plan, which includes 250 minutes of talk, 250 texts, and 10 Mb of data. When we inevitably go over the data quota, it costs 10 cents per megabyte, which isn't cheap, but it still keeps the whole plan way cheaper than with Verizon. Using her cellular data conservatively (eg, maps and texting, but waiting for wifi to download music or reading material) she's on track to use about 60 Mb, which will bring her entire bill to still less than $20. One of the ways that we help keep data consumption under control is by using a FreedomPop mobile hot spot, which gives you 500Mb of free data a month, if you're in their coverage area. Boston is, Santa Cruz is not. More on that here.
There is, however, a catch here. Officially, PagePlus does not support iPhones. They are a re-seller of Verizon's network capacity, and Verizon wants to make people with iPhones buy their expensive plans, instead of this. What that means is, if somebody at Verizon gets overexcited, they could ask PagePlus to terminate service to all the iPhones that are signed on with them. This would not only be inconvenient, it would mean that I lose my phone number. This would be bad, since I've been giving out the same phone number for a decade now. The solution to this was google voice. By porting our numbers to google voice, I accomplished two goals:
- If you call my phone number, the one I've had for the last 10 years, my cellphone rings, and so does my home phone. People only need one number for me, ever.
- If something goes catastrophically wrong with PagePlus, the phone number that they nuke is not one that anybody has. That way it would still be an inconvenience, but I would not need to give a new phone number to everybody I know.
So far this has not been without minor hiccups, but Mita and I are both really happy with the results. Effectively we have a land-line and two cell phones, all for less than $40/month, with a total setup cost of about $100.
One last option that is also worth exploring, that we didn't end up using, but also like, is Republic Wireless. Essentially they automate the process of using wifi whenever you can (so that you don't burn through their data), and their service is $19/month, for unlimited everything. It's also a great deal, with it's own pros and cons, the biggest of which is phone selection. More on that here.