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How to not be phone-less for $5 or less a month

Robb Ebright

Back in the day people used to share phone numbers, there was one land line and it didn't extract a small fortune monthly from your paycheck. But communal phone lines have more or less died with the rise of the cell phone. Now a days its not uncommon for people to pay 100$ or more a month for their connection to the world. But what if it was possible to have your own phone with unlimited texting and long-distance for only 5$ or less a month?

There are now a number of alternatives ways to have a cell phone for those wishing to avoid selling their first born for crystal clear cellphone reception. These new phone plans work by off-loading your calls to WiFi thus using your (or your neighbor's) internet to make as many calls as they can. When you are out and about they will hop-on to a cell network they have a rental agreement with. This new way of calling is a lot cheaper on the monthly bill but it usually involves buying a new smart phone tailored to their service. There's also the app based approach for people who have a smart phone they aren't willing to part with but no longer want to pay for regular service with. Finally if you are totally broke you might qualify for an Obama phone but those are very limited in minutes and are intended as the phone of last resort. So if you would like to learn more about the various cheap phone options out there read on.

First you may have seen that Google recently announced a new cell phone plan that'ss currently invite only and available only to people who happen to have invested in the latest and greatest nexus 6 that would give you 20$ a month unlimited text and calling. They're calling it Project Fi. It works by making as many calls as it can over wireless and then subcontracting out cell coverage over T-Mobile and Sprint. The money making comes in that they will charge you 10$ per GB of data you consumer over the airwaves and anyone with a smart phone knows that inhaling adorable cat videos can consume both a lot of mental and physical bandwidth over time. Since this is a limited invite only beta it will be interesting as it grows but there are a few companies out there already providing this type of super cheap phone service.

One option Republic Wireless, offers a 5$ a month wi-fi only plan with unlimited text & calling but you must provide the bandwidth from your home's internet connection to get calls. The catch is you need to purchase your phone from them with their custom android OS on it. They also offer a dataless plan of unlimited voice & text for 10$ a month for people who would prefer to be able to make phone calls while not sucking free wifi from their surroundings. I've used their service for a little over a year and recently made the transition to wi-fi only as I severed the antenna on my MotoX. It's been a refreshing change of pace to not worry about receiving phone calls while outside in the open. If you choose the Republic Wireless route you'll need to buy one of their customized motorola phones starting at 99$ for the budget Moto-E to 399$ for the MotoX 2. If you are addicted to data they offer unlimited 3G for 25$ and unlimited 4G for 40$ a month.

Another company setting up shop in the Wifi first market is Scratch Wireless, they offer free Wifi phonecalls and cell based text for free and then hope to make their money charging for Celluar passes that will give you access to data & voice respectively starting at 1.99 for 24 hours of access up to 14.99$ for unlimited voice and 24.99$ for a month of unlimited data. In order to get their service you need to buy a 99$ Motorola Photon Q phone from them. Both Scratch & Republic Wireless rent their cell access from Sprint through an agreement known in the cell industry MVNO (mobile virtual network operator).

So these options can provide you a significantly cheaper monthly bill but say you don't even have a hundred dollars lying around to buy a new phone. There is always the app based approach, this involves having an android smart phone and WiFi internet access. A service known as Line2 will provide you with a phone number you can call, text and receive voice mails on for 9.95$ a month and it will work under wifi, cell or even your windows computer if you purchase the 14.95$ a month pro version. There are also services like Microsoft's Skype and Google Hangouts that can provide you a phone # with unlimited calling but Google is intended to simply forward your calls to a pre-existing number and thus requires a phone # to get a phone number.

So if you aren't rich and are paying 50$ a month for your cell phone and have regular WiFi access there are options now opening that could save you a lot of money. You can even bring your existing phone # to most of these services but keep in mind you are venturing into somewhat uncharted territories from both a technical and business perspective so there may be times when the service is a little rocky. But if you are like me a dropped call here and there is worth the monthly savings.


Image remixed from Sea of Phones by Sascha Pohflepp