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Eliminating the Cell Phone Bill and Using a Smartphone Without a Data Plan: Suck It, Verizon!

Posted by on Mar 25, 2013 | 10 Comments

In an attempt to save money, Shelly and I decided to eliminate our crazy-expensive cell phone plan through Verizon. We were paying $190/ month for two smartphones with unlimited calls, text, and data. I decided to see if I could completely eliminate my plan while still maintaining some usability with my old phone. In essence, could I have smartphone capability for free?

Note- please don’t spam the comments section with your favorite cell phone plans. I will delete it. I’m aware of all the options available as I’ve researched it extensively. This is an experiment to continue using my hardware at no cost. If you have an idea consistent with that experiment, you may post that.

Anyway, these were my goals:

  • Keep my old phone number.
  • Be able to place and receive calls at least some of the time.
  • Be able to send and receive texts.
  • Be able to browse the Internet and use the Facebook app.
  • Be able to use Google Maps.
  • Be able to shoot pictures and video, and share.

This experiment was greatly simplified because I have an HTC Incredible running Android. This is significant because I can utilize Google Voice. This is what I did:

  1. Set up a Google Voice account using my Gmail login, then set it as my default voicemail system.
  2. Download and install GrooVe IP Lite, the Google Voice app, Wi-Fi Matic, and Wi-Fi Finder.
  3. Port my Verizon phone number to Google Voice. It cost $20, but allows me to keep the number. If anyone (prospective employers) tries to contact me or friends text me, I won’t miss it.
  4. Set up GrooVe IP Lite and Wi-Fi Matic.

This entire setup is based on using wi-fi instead of the data connection to accomplish tasks. Internet, Google Maps, and the Facebook app aren’t problematic as long as I have a wi-fi connection in the area.

Google Maps, in a recent release, added a badass “offline viewing” feature. This allows you to prefetch a map, then use the map for navigation once you leave your wifi connection. I was able to download the entire San Diego metro area. It’s not fully functional, but better than nothing.

In addition to Google Maps, I also downloaded MapFactor Navigation which also offers map pre-fetching and offline navigation. I’m still testing this particular app.

Google Voice allows me to text via the GV app over wifi, but not make calls. GrooVe IP Lite uses Google Voice to make calls over wi-fi.

Wi-Fi Matic sets up a schedule to turn wi-fi off when I wouldn’t be using it (night) to conserve the battery.

Wi-Fi Finder is an app that uses a database of free wi-fi hotspots all over the world. It also has a live scanner to find wi-fi hotspots within range. Since everything is now done via wi-fi, knowing where to find these hot spots is critical.

The limitations are obvious- I cannot use the phone outside a wi-fi network. This limits the phone’s usefulness in if I’m not at home or near a free public wi-fi hotspot. For some, this may be a deal-breaker. Based on my current situation, it’s mostly a non-issue.

What about emergencies?

Per FCC rules, all cell phones, regardless of status (deactivated in my case) must have the capability to place 911 calls. If there was an emergency, I’d still be covered.

Eventually I’ll move to a decent prepaid plan, but I’ll continue to experiment with the free route in the interim.

Anyone else play around with a similar setup and have any tips or tricks?

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10 Comments

  1. Walt
    April 3, 2013

    There’s also a good app called sbautologin. It’s designed for starbucks but it will do any web based TOS acceptance that I’ve found. My work requires it so I love not having to click it all the time.

  2. Zach
    March 28, 2013

    This is almost exactly what I did. I was always a little peeved every month with having a cell phone. I use less than 45 minutes per month on voice and maybe about 100-150 texts. I enjoyed having a cell phone for the camera feature, emergency call feature (both great for runs), and surfing the web when killing time at the coffee shop. As soon as my contract ended I moved my number to GV, and bought the full version of GrooveIP. (I tried out IP lite and liked it so much I splurged).

    One thing you may want to consider. I decided to go with a prepaid mobile hotspot as my “communication center.” I use the hotspot primarily for my computer and it’s not too big to take along if I believe I’ll need to make a call while out and about. All in all I was able to cut out my cell phone bill entirely and the mobile broad band was $25 cheaper per month than the hard line version.

    I must note a couple upsides to this besides the obvious benefit of saving money. I have noticed that I take my cell phone out now only when I truly “need” it and I have also eliminated the “cell phone panic” so many people seem to have when they leave a cell phone at home or lose it on the subway. This is actually something I’m interested to hear your thoughts about. We’ve all been there. Either us or someone we know who seems to not be able to function without their cell phone. I realize it’s a necessity for business but it’s not the end of the world if you leave it in your hotel room while on vacation. Anyway, I appreciate your blog. Keep up the good work.

  3. BryanC
    March 27, 2013

    I’m moving to the city from a place without cell reception. I’v been using a pay as you go phone which I recharge every year forr $100 (when the minutes expire) and I’ve never run out of minutes before the year is up. When I move to the city I was actually worried about affording a smart phone, but you’ve now inspired to see about keeping my pay as you go phone and getting an ipod touch and using google voice a la Steph.

    Pros are you have an cell phone you can use even when you’re away from wifi and you are paying for a number. If I were doing what you’re doing I’d be paranoid Verizon would find out I was using a number without paying for it. you think there’s no way they can do anything about it?

    Cons are you have two devices (not a big deal for me as I carry a back pack everywhere I go), and that it’s $100 per year and not free. But please keep us posted on how this goes. I now have a vested interest.

  4. Joe Balsamo
    March 27, 2013

    I have been following republic wireless. They are still in beta and require you to purchase the only supported phone they have, which is a Motorola DEFY XT. It is running an older Android version. I think 2.x, which is a bit scary to me, because Android is up to 4.1 I believe. Also there is the initial investment cost of phone.

    What is good about it and why I am keeping and eye on it, $20 a month plan for unlimited everything. It utilize wifi to make calls when on wifi, but has the option to make calls not on wifi. I think it uses Sprints network, which is another minor drawback, because Sprints coverage is probably the most spotty. It gives you a line as well so Google Voice can be forwarded to it.

    Now I am wondering if a $20 prepaid card with your setup would be similar, as long as you get to keep your phone and have a line to forward Google Voice to.

  5. Juha Myllylä
    March 26, 2013

    WTF – $190/month?!? That sounds just crazy. Most expensive cell phone monthly payment I could find was 24,90€ with 5000 minutes of call time, 5000 text messages and unlimited data usage with speed of 4G (50Mt/s). But I guess there are some difference how smartphones and their usage is paid.

  6. Patrick
    March 25, 2013

    Jason, did you know that t-mobile just came out with a new plan today? I plan on moving over to them when my current contract expires in June. It could cut your bill by $1000. Or just get one phone with unlimited data and ride it’s hotspot feature. Therefore, even cut your bill down even further, guarantee you have cellphone and wifi service.

  7. Jimmy
    March 25, 2013

    I’ve considered doing something similar, but the problem I ran into is that Google Voice doesn’t actually provide a phone line. It only provides a phone number that forwards to an existing phone line. So you still need to have a phone line somewhere.

    I also looked into pay-as-you-go plans, reasoning that I could keep a separate phone for emergencies and pay the few cents per minute if I ever needed to. Then my smartphone would be used whenever I had a wi-fi connection. This would have been a reasonable solution, with the main drawback being that I’d have to carry two phones around much of the time. Apparently there are some ways to connect an iPhone to a pay-as-you-go type of plan, but none of them are fully supported by the carriers, they basically require hacking the hardware.

    Finally, if you already own your phone there are plenty of less expensive plans out there. The reason most plans cost so much is that they take the cost of the phone (usually several hundred dollars) and spread it out over the life of your plan. So you can save money by keeping older hardware and limiting your phone, data, and text usage to reasonable amounts.

    • Patrick
      March 25, 2013

      Jimmy, if you have a wifi connection and a laptop, then you can place/receive calls using Googles voice app on there website. In this case, Jason is using a 3rd party app on his smartphone so he can place/receive calls with his Google number, so you don’t have to have a real number to forward to.

  8. Steph
    March 25, 2013

    Similar setup here with an iPod Touch and Google voice. I recently acquired a Mifi device ($60) to get Wifi from cell in places without Wifi. I pay $5 a month + some dollars per Mb of usage. I keep the usage super low, like a few $ per month by using it only for emails (no web browsing) and use it only on days I may be receiving work emails while I’m not in a wifi area.

    We recently made an excel sheet with all our recurring expenses, averaged per month. Then we sorted them and determined what we think we need, what we like to have and what we don’t need or particularly care for. After that, we could find solutions to get the need and want for cheaper and eliminate the rest. The $5 per month for wifi is really worth it to me. Now I don’t need to stay within wifi range when waiting for an email that me never come, I can start doing things.

  9. Erskien Lenier
    March 25, 2013

    Love it… Creative…