Since giving our 13 year old son my old iPhone 3GS for Christmas, I’ve known his SMS (text message) use was going to go up. Previously, he’d had a Motorola Razr phone and sending text messages was cumbersome for him. Getting our family on the AT&T “family plan” for unlimited text messages has been on my “to do” list for a few weeks. Tonight I looked up the status of our data and SMS usage on the AT&T wireless account website. The result? We’re overdue to upgrade our SMS plan, as anticipated. We are halfway through our billing cycle (17 days left) and Alexander has sent 500 text messages already, which is an overage of 300 messages on his current “plan.”

Time to upgrade text messaging plan

This situation will be pretty easy to remedy. I’m a bit dismayed to add up the figures and see as a family, we spent almost $2300 on wireless telecommunication services last year. (in 2010) Thankfully at this point we’re just paying for data plans on two of our smartphones (not on Alexander’s or Sarah’s) – and hopefully we’ll keep it that way. It certainly would be great to find a way to drastically reduce these monthly / yearly costs. I’m not very optimistic on that front, however, at least in the short term.

I was enthused to learn this week, via Manuel Gonzales, that Google is testing “phone number porting” for Google Voice for $20 per year. This means you can use your existing cellular phone number (if you’re accepted into the test group) and drop your existing carrier for $20 per year. Instead, you can use Google Voice. (Of course if you’re currently under contract, you’ll get socked with a fee from your carrier, so check this out carefully before making a change.) As Manuel pointed out, this means if you have a Verizon MiFi or other mobile hotspot device, all you’d need for telephony needs is an iPod Touch with an iPhone stereo headset (which includes a microphone) and Google Voice. One pathway forward for some folks, down the road to save money on cell phone bills, could be to pay the $50 or $60 per month for a personal hotspot, and then use Google Voice for all telephony needs.

Road Warrior Tools of the Future?

Free apps / app services like Whistle and textPlus 4 free text are already available to provide free phone calling and SMS messaging on iPod Touches. A Google Voice (GV) number, however, provides those functions and more. The fact that wireless phone numbers are on the brink of becoming portable for anyone to GV is a big deal. I’m sure these kind of options are part of the reason AT&T let existing iPhone 3GS users (like me) upgrade to the iPhone4 early before our contracts had expired. I locked into a new 2 year AT&T contract in November, so options like the ones I’ve highlighted here aren’t going to be realistic for me soon. They may not be for my wife and kids either… But I’m sure they will be for some folks.

Telecommunications convergence marches on. It’s not an inexpensive prospect by any means, today, to be a smartphone-connected family when you have several kids. There ARE more options than just those put forward by AT&T, however, and it will be exciting to explore these possible avenues further in the months ahead.

What is your family doing to try and cut down on monthly cellular bills? Do you think it’s realistic to ditch a “normal” cell phone plan and go with a personal wifi hotspot?

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  • http://twitter.com/mramidon Tyler Amidon

    We have done the same thing. Late last night I reduced our plan and instantly saved 40 bucks. I’ve been using my Google Voice account and Skype for a variety of calls and that has really cut down on my minutes used. Plus, over the course of time we have encouraged all our family members to go with Verizon and that has helped too. With Mobile to Mobile being free that has severely cut out minutes used between family members. I guess every little bit counts. I have an ipod touch with Google Voice and I can plug my Jabra handsfree into it and use it just like a phone. Great post! Thanks Wes.

  • Ryan Collins

    My plan is to move over to Google Voice for texting. Voice minutes aren’t tha big of deal, we’re not even close to using the minutes we already have.

    I like Google Voice for texts over some of the apps for the iPhone or iPod Touch because I can send and receive from whatever device I’m on. If you elect to receive your texts as an email, replying to a message is as simple as hitting Reply. I set up my niece on GV over Christmas because she wanted a way to text, so now she can use the GV mobile site on her Nintendo DSi to send and receive texts.

    It’s a pain at first to educate everyone to text your GV number instead of your cell number, but in the long run it’s worth it. (I’ve started to tell people I have a new cell number and just give them my GV.

  • http://twitter.com/techfacil Julie Cunningham

    We’ve been grappling with this issue as well because we have 4 children, and are a very tech heavy. Currently, we’re paying data charges for two adults and our teenager. However, child #2 is going to be moving from an iPod touch to a phone next year, and we will likely buy her an iPhone and incur yet another $30/mo data charge. It’s insane, but we decided that a MiFi only works when we are all together in the same place…. it doesn’t help when one is at an afterschool practice waiting to be picked up and another one across town at Girl Scouts. At home, they can all connect through our WIFI and TextFree/Skype. As they are out of the house more, I want to be able to connect with them as needed and I can’t see the MiFi working for our family…. which means at some point, we’ll be paying for 6 sets of data charges (well, maybe just 5 since the eldest should be earning his own keep by then!). I wish there were an iPhone data sharing plan similar to our ATT family text plan ($20 for all of us to text unlimited)!

  • http://allanahk.edublogs.org/ Allanah King

    I have recently been told about Viber for free iPhone to iPhone calls.

    http://itunes.apple.com/nz/app/viber-free-phone-calls/id382617920?mt=8

    It uses your data plan to make calls. In NZ the call quality is sometimes patchy but in the US of A it should be great.

    When you open the app it takes the info from your regular contact list and indicated who else in your network has an iPhone who has also got the app.

    No sign up required. Magic!

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