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.”
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.
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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