(+) Free or Nearly Free Cell Phone and Wi-Fi Telephone Calls

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

NOTE: This article has nothing to do with genealogy. However, one of my personal interests has always been saving money. Last year I found a cell phone bargain that was almost too good to be true, so I decided to try it. I wrote about my experiences at the time. The company later changed their offerings extensively. Now I have switched to a new service from the same company at roughly half the price of what I was paying earlier.

Apple made a number of announcements this week concerning new software for Macintosh as well as for the company’s iOS operating system, which is used in iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch handheld devices. Numerous articles about the new announcements are now available online . However, one newly-announced feature hasn’t received much notice, and yet, to me, it is perhaps one of the most useful features of all: use a cell phone to make telephone calls over a wi-fi wireless network connection.

This isn’t new to the industry, however. Actually, I have been doing the same for more than a year on a non-Apple cell phone and have found it to work well. No matter how terrible your local cell phone reception is, you can always make crystal clear calls as long as you can connect to a reasonably fast wi-fi network. In general, calls over wi-fi are clearer and less likely to drop, which is a good thing if you live or work in an environment with poor cell phone reception.

In fact, you can find a dozen or more apps in the Apple iPhone app store that add the capability of making calls over a wi-fi connection, and the Google Play store has similar apps for Android smartphones.

What is different with Apple’s new announcement and with the Android cell phone I have been using for months is that the wi-fi service is built into the cell phone by the manufacturer and allows for AUTOMATIC switching to the better-quality connection. The automatic switching between available networks is sometimes called “hybrid calling.”

An available wi-fi network usually can obtain better telephone call quality than a cellular network. At other times, a wi-fi network may not be available, or else a publicly-available wi-fi network may be overloaded and too slow for placing telephone calls. All the user-installed apps that I know of require the user to decide which network to use in advance of making a call. The user then has to tap on various icons to enable or disable the wi-fi telephone app.

The Android phone I have been using—and apparently the new iOS8 operating system from Apple—will make the decision without user involvement. In fact, the phone may switch from cell phone network to an available wi-fi network and then back again as the user travels from one area to another, all without the user’s knowledge. The phone does this by testing the available wi-fi and cellular network connections and selecting the cheapest and/or best quality connection available.

Best of all, wi-fi connections are always cheaper than cell phone connections, often MUCH cheaper. Normal (wired) telephone calls have become ridiculously cheap in recent years, but cell phone calls in the U.S. remain at astronomical prices. Wi-fi is changing all that.

In the January 8, 2013, newsletter, my article called (+) (Almost) Unlimited Cell Phone Minutes for only $19 per Month described my experience with a cell phone plan that costs $19 a month for (almost) unlimited incoming and outgoing calls to the U.S. and Canada.

In fact, I have been using this $19/month for service for more than a year and have been happy with it. The company provided only one service: $19/month, take it or leave it. Now the company has added two new phones and also switched to four levels of service. These four different services range from $5 a month (for a service that does not meet my needs) to $40 a month (for a service that provides more than what I need). I elected to switch to their new $10 a month plan and have been using it for several months. So far, it has met my needs perfectly when at home or when traveling around my home town area. However, when traveling longer distances, I usually upgrade to the $25 a month service, then downgrade when I return home. Since this company does not have contracts, I can upgrade, downgrade, or even cancel the service at any time with no penalty involved.

I am flying coast-to-coast later today and want a higher level of service while on my trip. I upgraded this morning to the $25-a-month service by using a few mouse-clicks on a web page. When I return next week, I will downgrade to the $10-a-month service again. The total cost to me will be about $3.75 for one week’s service at the higher rate. (That’s an extra $15 a month, but I only have to pay extra for about one-fourth of a month.)

To be sure, these bargain prices do have some restrictions; but, I found those restrictions to be so minor that I can safely ignore them, and I suspect that many others can do the same. If I wish, I can upgrade my service at any time to include additional features, although at higher prices. Even the highest-priced service at $40 a month is still cheaper than that of most other cell phone services.

I have now cut my cell phone monthly expenses from nearly $100 a month that I paid more than a year ago to $10 a month. I also found that the phone and the service work well. The people I call never know that I am a cheapskate… uh, “thrifty.” In fact, a few people I have talked with have remarked how clear the connection is. I have only received those comments when connected via a wi-fi connection.

Even better, I no longer own a standard, old-fashioned telephone. I can now use my new cell phone for all my calls, both at home and when outside the home, for a TOTAL of $10 a month for all telephone conversations. Compare that to your monthly telephone bill. Do you have a wired phone in the house plus a cell phone? If so, what is the total amount you pay for both phones? Or for three phones if your spouse also has a cell phone?

At these prices, you probably can also give another phone to a teenager in the house. His or her cell phone could cost a maximum of $10 a month although with a few restrictions. Actually, considering the amount of money to be spent, it is fewer restrictions than a normal cell phone.

I am using an Android “smartphone” that not only places and receives telephone calls but also surfs the web with a built-in web browser, sends and receives text messages, reads and writes email messages, takes pictures, plays music, plays videos, reads and updates my calendar, maintains a large phone book, displays maps, provides directions, plays games, and much, much more. In short, it is a normal Android cell phone.

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