Author Topic: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide  (Read 177209 times)

I.P. Daley

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Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« on: February 29, 2012, 06:45:23 PM »
Update

After nearly two years... it's time for a bit of change and structured improvement. The original Superguide here will be locked to discussion, but fear not! In it's place, we have the new and improved abridged Son of the Superguide, as well as it's own dedicated discussion thread!

Of course, the guide posted here is only an abridged and shortened version of the new for 2014 Daley’s Frugal Communications Guide, which is a far more complete and detailed version of the information over at Technical Meshugana. I'd love to post the entire guide here, but at over 23,000 words across all the sub-topics, it would just be too massive a wall of text to present in a forum. As it is, the new guide at only six posts is still huge.

Anyway, why split the new guide apart and separate discussion? Because more and more frequently, people found the guide to be overwhelming despite the core only being seven posts due to the length of the subsequent discussion. Again, this is a limitation of doing this in the forums... so, adapt for the environment and all that jazz.

New Superguide Index

Introduction
Internet Service Providers
Cell Phone Providers
Home Telephone Providers
Home Entertainment
Closing & FAQ

Superguide Discussion Thread

The Unabridged Daley’s Frugal Communications Guide


Thanks for everything, hope to see you in the new threads, and here's to even more savings for the community than before!




Welcome to the MMM Community's (hardly) comprehensive primer guide for saving massive amounts of money on your communications bills! Originally started as a more comprehensive follow-up to dahlink's What’s a MVNO and why you should know if you use a cell phone… thread, it's grown through feedback to be a relatively decent primer on saving money with your telecommunications bills.

"How much money could I save?" I hear you asking... well, let's break down my household's total monthly bills for one internet connection, two phone lines (home, business), two cell phones, and a rich on-demand entertainment catalog for two adults. This is what we're getting (as of April 2012):
  • 3Mbps cable internet with a 50GB/month cap (Cox - $40)
  • two Android cellphones using on average 150 minutes a month total (PlatinumTel - $8.50)
  • home telephone via VoIP with e911 and 250 free minutes a month to US/Canada plus 1¢/min billing on overages (FutureNine - $8)
  • Amazon Prime Video On Demand (plus free 2 day shipping on all Prime eligible orders on Amazon - useful if you need to order supplies online due to poor local brick and mortar choices for food/bulk goods/supplies/etc.) (Amazon - $6.70)
  • two Google Voice numbers (Google - free)
  • one Sipgate One account for incoming business calls paired with one of the GV accounts above (Sipgate - free)
  • OTA broadcast television (free)
  • streaming video via Hulu, CBS, Crackle, etc. (free)
The total cost? Approximately $63 a month. Sometimes a bit higher, sometimes a bit lower as the cell phones are our major wild card. The best part? We could still cut that lower if we didn't subscribe to Amazon Prime (or count it as part of the budget as we primarily subscribe for the shipping, not the entertainment) and if we switched VoIP providers. Don't think we're starving on communications with the outside world, either. My wife and I text people on occasion (total of around 40-60 SMS messages a month), and we log on average about 20+ hours of talk time.

How did we do it? You're about to find out. First, let's dispel some myths.

1) I need a cell phone data plan for my GB and GB of data every month!
No, you don't. Use your cell phone as a tool. Learn to use its primary function as an emergency communications tool, nothing more. Stop using Facebook, Twitter, browsing the web, streaming music and video, and whatever else you young kids today use cell phones for. For the data you will be using on your cell to keep costs low with lower priority communications, you don't need much data. You'd be surprised how little Google Voice, TextFreek, Kik, e-mail, IM, and GPS/map data for the times you don't have a real paper map in the car for the area you're in can really use. You also forget the multitude of WiFi hotspots around... if you're concerned enough about data, you likely own a phone that can connect to WiFi. Use it. If you want to be entertained while out and about, use an MP3 player or read a book.
2) I need a cell phone plan for the hours and hours of time I spend a month talking to people!
Unless you're a road warrior salesman/support guy or drive a truck for a living, no you don't. Unless it's business related, you should view phone time as a luxury to be done when you aren't making money. As such, if you aren't making money, you're likely at home relaxing. Using VoIP and data on your home internet connection will always be cheaper.
3) I need really fast internet to be able to watch streaming video and game and use VoIP services like Skype!
No, you don't. Although if you have access to broadband, I wouldn't recommend in this day and age any lower than a 3Mbps feed, I would be remiss to recommend much more, as well... unless time is money and money comes from moving huge wads of data on a daily basis. For networked gaming, ping time is more important than data speed, and any decent DSL or Cable provider should be plenty. For VoIP, you can almost get by on dial-up bandwidth. For streaming video, 480p is more than plenty - seeing the hair growing out of Bob DeNiro's mole doesn't make Heat a more enjoyable film. The only thing that disrupts these services on a 3Mbps line is heavy P2P file sharing, but outside of Blizzard game updates and Linux ISO discs, there's not much legitimate use out there for torrenting, and smart configuration settings helps minimize that impact anyway.
4) Bundling my phone and data into a single portable device like a cell phone will cost less money!
This only holds true if you're a true road warrior. We're entering an era of data caps and paying by the MB for what we use, and wireless data is expensive. Given the portable nature of telephony these days, if you don't travel much or you have WiFi access for say 75% of your time-spent locations, you're golden. Luxury data usage time can wait until you're home. Don't cut that cable.

Next, let's look at some providers (and this won't be exhaustive, just best of the lot for no contract, no frills pay as you go price-performance). Since regional issues tend to influence decisions, it would be myopic to focus on single providers for services where providers as opposed to service type can be recommended. For the sake of simplicity, I'll be breaking up services by post. Also note that this is focused more on the frugal home users, though some of the advice can be adapted for mustachioed business usage as well.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2014, 12:25:55 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

I.P. Daley

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #1 on: February 29, 2012, 06:45:57 PM »
Cell Phones (MVNOs are your friend!)

First, let's briefly discuss your bill: "How much am I currently paying? How much am I actually using per month? Can I reduce this usage if I had a home phone? What network am I on? Am I under contract? What's it going to cost to jump ship?"

These are all questions you should be asking yourself before you shop the alternatives, and once you've got rough numbers and a plan or two together, you can poke numbers into the Wireless Plan Calculator to work out your ROI.

Now, let's introduce some of the most cost effective wireless providers available!

PlatinumTel - https://www.platinumtel.com/
A fantastic T-Mobile GSM based MVNO with pay as you go rates of 2¢ a text, 5¢ a minute, 10¢ a MB of data with airtime on refills starting at 90 days, and regarded as one of the granddaddies of the MVNOs. Monthly rates are available as well. Although not a cheap data provider, you'd be surprised how far a megabyte can go with text communications. They offer BYOD (bring your own device), and reasonably priced, good quality phones. For maximum flexibility and cost savings, I would highly recommend investing in a GSM handset that matches your needs and just buy a SIM card. You might have to shell out $100 for a phone, but when you have the potential to be able to get your monthly smart phone service down to as low as $5.00/month, it can be an excellent ROI. We're longtime customers, and it's good service.
Pros: Been around for over a decade. One of the cheapest available per minute and per text rates in the industry, period. Generous 60+ day service time on refills. Free number porting. Frequent promo specials for airtime with handset/SIM purchases. Refurbished phone options. BYOD support. Device tethering is permitted (only) on pay as you go plans. Rollover for unused balance.
Cons: T-Mobile network coverage only! If you don't get good T-Mo service or reception, or wander off the T-Mo network much, you won't have service as they don't allow roaming onto other GSM networks. There have been customer service complaints by others, but the few times I've dealt with them, they've been fine. Refill cards or sellers aren't readily available locally most places, online only for everything. No auto recharge option, top-up is manual only. No call forwarding.

Airvoice Wireless - http://www.airvoicewireless.com/
Currently the king of cheap pay as you go AT&T MVNO providers at 4¢ a minute, 2¢ a text, and 33¢ MB data with 30 day refills. Although one of the most expensive per MB of data, Airvoice is technically now cheaper per minute than even Platinumtel, and their customer service is superior to Locus' H2O Wireless, and is technically one of the older GSM MVNOs in the nation. Trivially easy to BYOD as they're a GSM carrier so long as you have either an AT&T based or unlocked GSM phone. They've recently gone into the "Unlimited" talk and text trap as so many other providers have with bigger packages, but before they did, the same priced packages in question offered up to 5000 minutes and 10,000 text messages. One would hope that Airvoice's soft usage cap would still fall roughly in line with those usage numbers, but the change (as of mid-August) is still recent enough that that has yet to be reliably determined. SIM cards cost $5 and can be ordered through them directly or from them directly through Amazon. Parents are on Airvoice.
Pros: BYOD support, especially easy with AT&T phones. Perfect for the AT&T refugee as it's just a new SIM card in your old phone and off you go. Balance rollover. Decent customer support. AT&T GSM network coverage. Free number porting.
Cons: AT&T GSM network only! No roaming off network. AT&T GSM network coverage. Expensive data rates. Short airtime credit, forcing a minimum budget of $10/month. Online or Western Union purchasing of refill cards only. No device tethering.

GoSmart Mobile - https://gosmartmobile.com/
New on the scene as of the beginning of 2013, GoSmart is actually a T-Mobile owned brand... which is why I'm willing to recommend a relatively untried brand on the scene. They're the go-to for GSM service for people who somehow feel they still need some form of "unlimited" service. Talk and text packages start at $30, with 2G data added for $35 and 5GB of 3G data for $45 a month. Good alternative for those considering Platinumtel, but can't quite get the math to work.
Pros: Free number porting. Cheap option for people who can't rope their usage levels in for pay as you go. GSM BYOD. Owned by T-Mobile.
Cons: T-Mobile network coverage only! No call forwarding. Tiny grace period for re-upping service before losing your number.

Ting - https://ting.com/
Relatively new on the scene, Ting is owned by internet services giant Tucows.com and came out of beta back in March of 2012. They are a Sprint based MVNO with a twist - voice and SMS roaming on the Verizon network in country and roaming support in several other US territories and countries! That's right, we have a CDMA MVNO that allows roaming off network, here. Although not as cheap for what's provided as other Sprint based MVNOs, they are quite reasonably priced for heavier users, SMS fiends, and people desiring "family" plans. Also, if your Sprint voice coverage winds up spotty in places, the little extra a month might be worth it to you for gaining the ability to roam off-network. Their pricing gimmick is tiered-based usage levels for voice/text/data with it acting as a usage bucket for all phones on the plan, and auto-adjusting to either the higher or lower priced service tiers depending on usage, so there's no overages or paying for drastically more than you needed. Monthly plans for a single handset can vary from as little as $9/month to as much as $132/month with the ability to have overages billed per min/MB/etc., but that $132 will provide you with 3000 minutes, 6000 SMS messages, and 3GB of data. Handsets are expensive for buy-in, but they're currently about to launch official BYOD support for Sprint devices as of the end of October 2012!
Pros: Great customer support. Roaming support, including Canada and a mess of other countries! Sprint 4G support. Free tethering and hotspot support. Although new, company is owned by one of the oldest, most profitable internet tech companies. BYOD support for Sprint handsets with clean ESNs.
Cons: Expensive handsets. Crude but expensive BYOD support for a CDMA MVNO. Roaming out of country is EXPENSIVE outside of US territories and Canada.

PagePlus - http://www.pagepluscellular.com/
A decent Verizon CDMA based MVNO with reasonably priced smaller prepaid packages starting with "The 12" which is $12/month for 250 minutes, 250 text messages and 10MB of data. PagePlus has been around for a long time, but hasn't aged well with their customer support. They allow BYOD, sort of, and are a fantastic option for most Verizon refugees who are out of contract and close their account on good standing as you can bring most phones with. Their banned provider and model list is comically long for a BYOD provider though, so unless you're a Verizon refugee or already know what's allowed and how to make it work, you're literally better off just buying a preconfigured phone from PagePlus or one of their resellers.*
Pros: Allows roaming off the Verizon network. BYOD support to an extent, good BYOD support for (soon to be) ex-Verizon users in good standing and out of contract. Decent monthly package prices. Free number porting if activation done through PagePlus directly.
Cons: Customer support is terrible. Roaming prices off network per minute are insane. BYOD is painfully restrictive. Expensive pay as you go options. No device tethering.

(*)Read this post for explanation.

Virgin Mobile - http://www.virginmobileusa.com/
Virgin is a Sprint owned MVNO on their own network, which is a bit of an oxymoron. Although they have only moderately reasonable minute packages, their Broadband2Go service is one of the cheaper prepaid data providers you can get starting at 100MB for $10 with 10 days access, and $50 for unlimited for a month. This is the provider you want if you're away from home for a few weeks every so often and you need a more secure network connection and more reliable bandwidth than the local hotel can provide. Used Virgin USB modems and MiFi hotspots can be picked up on eBay and CL for cheap.
Pros: Cheap used device market. Cheap unlimited prepaid data. Reasonable prices for limited data use abroad, or for the data hungry.
Cons: Sprint customer service. Sprint network coverage only. Only a good provider for data.

There's also Net10/TracPhone/StraightTalk (America Movil) which isn't the cheapest, and support can be a nightmare unless si tu habla español. Additionally, they have terrible phones, you can't bring your own device (with the exception of StraightTalk), and if you ever need to replace a SIM card, forget it... you're better off buying another phone. If you want a new phone, you'll have to re-register and port internally if you want to keep your phone number. It's just awkward and not worth the money for the most part. They also over-promise with their "unlimited" packages on StraightTalk, especially with data. If you're looking to spend in excess of 10¢ a minute or more on phone service and need GSM and T-Mobile has good coverage in your area, go with their prepaid service or monthly 4G packages instead.

Finally in this list, there's Republic Wireless... the little provider that could. Their gimmick is $20 a month unlimited usage with WiFi and Sprint network coverage. Theoretically, it's a great idea. A pre-configured Android phone that defaults to WiFi for calling and seamlessly integrates cell service and VoIP? Fantastic! Unfortunately, execution's left a lot to be desired. You can replicate it on your own likely for less using any cheap carrier, Android phone, Google Voice and Talkatone. Don't even consider it if you're looking at their $30 rate. As a final thought, RW users always cite, "The service will get better once they roll out the next, better phones." If the solution to making your service be able to replicate what a commodity $20 dumbphone can do reliably involves throwing more technology and money at the situation just to make your service suck less? I'll let you meditate on that one.

As for SMS text messaging, understand first and foremost that text messaging is a racket and a cash cow, even in prepaid. If you have occasion to text the days away with heavy usage, look into getting a cheap smartphone and a Google Voice account. A single SMS text message is roughly 1120 bits in size (8 bits to 1 byte, 1024 bytes to 1 kilobyte, 1,048,576 bytes to 1 megabyte, 1120 bits = 140 bytes). By the math alone (if I did it right), you should be able to send 7,489 text messages in 1MB of data. This means, at even 2¢ an SMS message at PlatinumTel, you're paying $149.78 for 1MB of data, and that's one of the cheapest SMS rates! On one hand, it makes those $5 or $10 unlimited text bolt on plans look more attractive, but you know what looks even more attractive still? That 10¢/MB data rate. Needless to say, this bit of information can pretty much justify the purchase of a low frills smartphone that can run SMS text alternatives like Google Voice (the perfect SMS text protocol friendly replacement), Kik, or KakaoTalk if you and/or your contacts are text message fiends. Even these will cost money, however, and you should ideally try and refrain from having elaborate text conversations on your mobile or consider larger packages from providers that aren't as stingy with the data.

Of course, any data usage is your enemy when you're being billed by the MB, so steps should be taken to stem that data usage as much as possible. Some Android specific software and tips are included in the Miscellaneous Hardware & Software section.

For the ultra-extreme emergency phone only situation, there's two options. First is the 100% free option outside of obtaining the handset. Any cell phone, even if it's deactivated and without a SIM card or active account can and will call 911 (GSM/CDMA) or 112 (112 is a GSM network only global/universal emergency number - reroutes to 911 in the States) if there's any signal available at all. This is a federally mandated law, so if you just want a cell phone for extreme emergencies while on the road, go this route. Again, this will even work with GSM phones that have no SIM card. Ideally, the best phone option if you have a choice will be a tri-band GSM plus CDMA world phone to ensure the highest level of coverage if you do a lot of cross-country traveling, otherwise any phone will work. It is highly recommended that you take the phone you plan to use for this to a retail location for the mobile network carrier that sold the phone initially and have the phone properly reset and deactivated. Just tell them you want to convert the phone to 911 emergency services only - they should know what to do from there to help you out (master reset and NAM reset if applicable). There's even been tales of some kindly Verizon reps over the years who've included the ability to call non-emergency Highway Patrol numbers for the area while reprogramming the handsets, but there's no guarantee they'll do that. This is also a great option to keep in mind if you're going to try the ultra-extreme WiFi/VoIP only with no wireless carrier option with your smartphone (not recommended). Note: this option is for emergency 911 situations only like a car wreck or fire, not for flat tires and empty gas tanks. Also, if using any wireless phone in this manner, although between GPS (when available) and triangulation allowing them to locate where you are down to around 30m or so best case scenario, be sure to tell them where you're located to ease the dispatcher's job in getting help to you.

As a less extreme emergency phone only secondary option that still lets you call home or a tow truck or something while on the road if needed, obtain any Verizon or Sprint phone (might work with other regional CDMA carriers, not 100% certain on this yet - it is important that it's a CDMA phone with a clean ESN, though - most people who do this seem to favor using Verizon handsets) take it into the store and have them deactivate it as before for the 911 only option and get the MIN/NAM set to identify the phone number as 123-456-7890 (the universal deactivated handset identification number). From this point, you should be able to try making a call and getting a woman's voice talking about making a collect or credit card charged phone call. Congratulations! In addition to making 911 calls, you now have access to the American Roaming Network (ARN) and can make outgoing calls to the US and Canada. Although horrible expensive doing collect or credit card based calls, you can buy a 60 minute PIN card for $20 that will last a year and you can recharge the PIN account at a 25¢ a minute rate afterward. This is the perfect, lowest-cost non-911 exclusive emergency phone for the glove box option available. As before, this is also a great option to keep in mind if you're going to try the ultra-extreme WiFi/VoIP only with no wireless carrier option with your smartphone (still not recommended). If you go this route or the 911 only route, just keep that phone turned off with about a 2/3rds battery charge in the glove box and with a car charger, and you should be covered. For safety sake, be cautious of really hot lithium ion batteries during usage in the summer, though.

For further research on your own for wireless providers, Howard Forums are an invaluable resource for information. As of October 2012, however, these are the best deals going from reputable companies with established business.

I might also point out from a handset perspective that Apple iPhone 4's are drastically unmustachian from a data frugality standpoint as they are frequently the highest consumers of needless network data of all the smartphones. Android can be no prize pig itself, but there's greater flexibility to stem needless network data usage with it. Ideally, Blackberries are the most frugal as I've never seen our phones use more than 2MB a month under normal data usage with frequent e-mails, but of the two cheapest MVNOs, H2O has far more expensive data despite the freedom to BYOD, and ACRS, the only PlatinumTel authorized reseller who offered Blackberries hasn't had any stock available for ages and Blackberries are pretty worthless without BIS service even if you can get them working without it. Better to just bite the bullet and go Android.

I also cannot emphasize this enough: RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH! Don't just go blindly into one provider without finding out what sort of coverage you have in your average roaming area first. As much as I sing the praises of PlatinumTel, it's not for everybody. As great a reception as my wife and I have with them for most of our travels, there's one place we go occasionally where we literally have zero reception: my parent's place in the country. There is literally a Sprint-free dead zone that begins in the center of my parents house and radiates out about 200 feet in every direction. So, great provider for us, crappy for them. Thus the usage of H2O wireless there. Now, you can say that it's a bit pointless to have coverage at home if I'm arguing to use it only in emergencies or when out, but it's still important to have reception in the places you haunt the most, because emergencies happen there, too. Electricity and phone/internet goes out in a storm? Live in the boonies and need GPS coordinates for your 911 call? Factor in everything, ask others about who provides the best cellular network for your area, and don't just blindly trust the coverage maps from the providers as they're known to lie.

Updated October 9th with changes to Ting BYOD, and the loss of ACRS P'tel BYOD.
Updated October 26th with Wireless Calculator.

Updated January 9th with Platinumtel CDMA/GSM switchover.
Updated May 31st with H2O drop, GoSmart addition, more info on doing a Republic setup for less.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2013, 11:03:00 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

I.P. Daley

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #2 on: February 29, 2012, 06:46:37 PM »
Home Telephone Service (VoIP providers)

Before diving into this particular topic, I should briefly touch on what VoIP is and how it can save you money. VoIP is short for Voice over Internet Protocol, and is a data communications technology that bridges internet-based voice communications with the global Bell-based plain old telephone system, or POTS. Google Voice is based on this technology, so is Vonage, and even AT&T uses in in their traditional phone service between exchanges to keep their costs down (even if they don't pass that savings on to you). So long as you have an internet connection and a VoIP provider that can provide you a phone number and a connection to local exchanges, you can make calls to anybody on the planet with a traditional phone line or cell phone through your internet connection. The great thing is that VoIP leverages the internet's bandwidth to keep connection costs low by keeping your call as data up to the point of the local exchange of the person you're calling, which especially helps with international call costs.

If yo'd like a good primer, read this post over at Technical Meshugana: VoIP and the return of the home phone.

Anyway, on with the providers.

Future Nine - http://www.future-nine.com/
One of the cheapest gearhead friendly VoIP providers available providing a month-to-month basic phone package starting at $7/month for a phone number, 250 outbound minutes, 2000 inbound minutes, and no e911 service (e911 is an extra $1 a month). Their feature list isn't the greatest compared to most other providers, but what they lack in features, they make up for in some of the lowest international rates available through any VoIP provider around. Here's a great example: I have a friend who lives in Ireland, and he has a cell phone with Meteor. Calling a Meteor phone in Ireland costs on average about 25¢ a minute or higher through every single VoIP and cell phone service I've found but F9. On F9, it's 6.6¢, and the call quality is excellent. The owner of the company frequents the Broadband Reports forums and frequently tosses in on tech support himself. Even if you don't decide to use F9 as your primary VoIP provider, they're an excellent secondary provider for routing calls out on if you do any regular international calling.
Pros: Excellent call quality. Excellent international rates. Good tech support with supported devices. Account can be used as a calling card while away from home. Supports SIP-to-SIP (100% internet, 100% free) calling to any SIP provider. US and Canada treated as the same calling area. Softphone access (use with your WiFi enabled Android). e911 is an optional add-on feature so you don't have "hidden" fees on top of the quoted base price to provide the service.
Cons: Documentation on device configuration is sparse. You're on your own for exotic configurations. Website looks ghetto if you care about that sort of thing. Not many advanced features that most other providers offer. Expensive to port phone number in. e911 is an add-on feature.

VOIPo - http://www.voipo.com/
A feature rich VoIP provider that although is relatively expensive for month-to-month payment, has had bundled offers that have dropped the price of service as low as $5.30/month for 5,000 minutes or less so long as you pay in yearly chunks. Many of the convenience factors of Google Voice like number blocking are available with this service, and e911 is included as part of the service (though that fee is hidden from the quoted price). They also provide a free ATA bridge for use with their service so long as your account is active, though they'll soak you if you return the device after your service expires or is canceled. Officially they also state they don't support third party devices, but their official support forums have an entire section devoted to community supported third party devices.
Pros: Good call quality. Reasonably good customer support. One of the cheapest total package VoIP providers. e911 included as part of basic service. Thriving support forums for DIY users. Supports SIP-to-SIP calling to any SIP provider. Similar features to Google Voice. Free number porting. US and Canada treated as the same calling area. Softphone access (use with your WiFi enabled Android). 30 day trial with full refund if canceled.
Cons: Good pricing only in one year/two year chunks, canceling service gets used months billed at full $15/month price before refund. "Free" leased ATA has expensive return costs if returned outside of active service dates.

sipgate - http://www.sipgate.com/
This has been the provider that's the go-to for people who do 100% virtual Google Voice calling and those who occasionally need FAX services. The Sipgate One account provides you with a free California phone number with free inbound calls, available 1.9¢/minute outbound calls if needed, free FAX to e-mail inbound, and 49¢ a FAX plus 1.9¢/minute outbound domestic. You can also buy another phone number for $2.90/month and add e911 service for $1.90/month. If you don't need anything but what the free Sipgate One and Google Voice accounts can provide, look no further. Also a good provider for minimalist setups with spartan use.
Pros: Good service with free barebones incoming account. Cheap minimalist options for low usage. Integrates well with Google Voice. Supports SIP-to-SIP calling. Cheap FAX support. Cheap dedicated e911 VoIP account.
Cons: Minimal support with free accounts. Higher than average outgoing per minute fees for VoIP. (Currently) out of free phone numbers with suspended registration.

There's also VOIP.ms, which is popular with some folks, but I don't have any personal experience with them. Definitely looking into if you're shopping around as their feature set and prices might be of use to your situation.

I would be remiss to not at least give Google Voice another quick mention here. Personally, I've grown tired of using it and don't value the "free" services offered for the level of datamining anymore, but it is still an incredibly useful service for those who need its features or want it. GV is also a great workaround for the cellphone use to save money on SMS text messaging with people you know who refuse to use anything but SMS and for providing a phone number other than your cell number to hand out to everyone. It's also useful for those complainey people who refuse to tell someone who calls you on your cell phone that you want to call them back when you have time to talk as it's just a quick (*) key to ring the GV call over to your VoIP account even on your own cellphone (if you're in a WiFi hotspot) so long as you give them your GV number instead of your actual cell number.

There's also services like MagicJack and Ooma. MagicJack offers a dirt cheap price per year on phone service and a proprietary device, but they don't permit using your own devices or software to make or receive calls, which is one of the cost savings benefits of using a VoIP provider with a WiFi enabled cell phone. Their call quality is rather inconsistent as well and "unlimited" comes with some fine print and monthly minute restrictions. Ooma's actually a bit of a racket as their "unlimited" free phone service still costs about $3-5 a month for the phone number, e911 support and regulatory fees, their "unlimited" comes with fine print as well, and their hardware is proprietary and starts at $200. Unfortunately, the Ooma hardware also has a history of dying due to shoddy electronics components just outside the warranty period (likely cheap capacitors - as is the bane of all electronics these days). You also have the same limitations on flexibility with the service as you do with MagicJack. They might be decent options for cheap shut-ins who spends all day glued to the phone, but we want workable, reliable, frugal solutions. Intelligent frugality requires the resourcefulness to use your services how you need them with your own devices.

If you're still interested in MagicJack and Ooma, read these posts on the math. It's not pretty. If you insist on going with an ultra-cheap, proprietary service, go with netTALK instead. It's forum user approved within limitations.

As with all things since I can't say it enough, RESEARCH! Nothing is a one-size fits all situation, and that applies with these carriers, your usage, and if you want to use it for personal or business needs. A good place to do a lot of VoIP provider research is over at Broadband Reports. They have extensive reviews of VoIP providers, user forums, and they cover other topics such as ISPs and networking hardware.

Updated May 29, 2013 - VoIP research links, MagicJack, Ooma, and NetTalk additions.
« Last Edit: May 29, 2013, 05:30:54 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #3 on: February 29, 2012, 06:47:06 PM »
Home Telephone Service (hardware and software)

VoIP hardware should be discussed, specifically the ATA or Analog Telephone Adapter. These little boxes act as a bridge between your traditional home telephone equipment and your internet connection allowing you to dial out and make calls normally. In this day and age, people are fond of device convergence. One word of advice? Don't. There's always a price premium for integrating functions together, and electronics will eventually fail. Example: which of the following device configurations will cost less over the next ten years?
A) A $200 cable modem with ATA phone bridge, router, WiFi adapter, and 60 minute battery backup integrated that needs replacing every three years (worst case) because one of the myriad of devices stopped working or went obsolete, or...
B) A $50 cable modem that needs replacing every three years (worst case), a $50 WiFi router that will need replacing every five years, a $50 ATA bridge that will need replacing every four, and a $100 UPS that will only need another $50 lead acid battery every five to seven years under ideal conditions, with enough battery life to power that whole mess for days.

If you guessed Option B, you're obviously in the right place. B also gives us the added benefit of less overall downtime for every hardware configuration scenario except modem failure if repair or replacement is needed. The other thing to consider is repair if you're handy with a soldering iron as most of these electronics frequently only need replacing due to one or two swollen capacitors that cost a couple bucks at most off DigiKey to replace or a dead power adapter. Going with separate devices using repair reduces complexity and the chance of killing it trying to repair the thing to begin with. The cabling may get messy, but it's worth keeping your network and communications devices separate.

As for specific ATA devices? Here's three entry-level models well supported and of decent build:

Cisco SPA112-NA ($45 most places)
2 FXS ports with 1 account per port, 1 LAN port, 5 REN, T.38 FAX/modem support
This is a workhorse ATA adapter. Quality build for an ATA, supports up to two phone lines/SIP accounts, feature rich if you know what you're doing. This is a solid choice, but even still, you'll eventually have to replace capacitors on the thing as it's a consumer ATA.

Grandstream HT701 ($35 most places)
1 FXS port with 1 account per port, 1 LAN port, 5 REN, T.38 FAX/modem support
This is a good, cheap, full featured single line ATA that's useful as an emergency fallback device, an on the road device, or even as your primary device if you're on a budget and only need a single line. The quality of the build veers towards cheaper Chinese electronics than what you get from Cisco, but that's what the good capacitors and the soldering iron is for once the warranty ends and it starts going flaky.

Obihai OBi100 ($40 most places)
1 FXS port with 2 accounts per port and Google Voice support, 1 LAN port, 5 REN, G.711 FAX/modem pass-through, call history
This is a reasonably priced model that's a favorite of the Google Voice users. Lots of features and relatively easy to configure, but a lot of gimmicks that you'll likely never use tossed in as well. The build quality is about equal with nearly every other ATA.

If you'd like to learn more about VoIP and deployment, read this article.

We should also touch on a small chunk of technology called the Uninterruptable Power Supply, or UPS for short. For those of you in the know, you likely don't need to be evangelized about this miracle money-saving device. For the rest of you, let me explain what it does. The UPS is like a top to bottom electrical power conditioner. It's like a surge strip on so many anabolic steroids that it eats other surge strips for breakfast. What it does is not only protect against power surges from lightning strikes and their ilk, it also protects against brownouts or undervoltage situations as well which can damage electronics, and it provides electricity during blackouts that allows for computer users to save work and shut down cleanly and can run low draw power devices for a long time during extended blackouts. Additionally, the good manufacturers will insure any electrical device plugged into it against electrical damage and replace it free if the device is found to have failed. The best UPSes on the market will have something called Auto Voltage Regulation or AVR, which is a fancy term meaning that it will spit out a clean and constant 110V AC 24/7/365 no matter what's being pumped from the outlet. Cheaper models tend to use the clamping method of voltage regulation like surge strips, which can frequently allow power spikes as high as ten times rated voltage (1200V) or higher before clamping down and suppressing the spike, which can still do damage to electronics.

Now, it may seem odd to bring up such a seemingly unrelated device while talking about VoIP providers and ISPs, but there's a good reason for it. You see, if you're relying on your internet to provide your core communications, it's best to set your hardware up to mitigate downtime, and electrical damage and blackouts cause downtime. By connecting your broadband modem, your router, and your ATA device (which will be your bridge between your VoIP provider and your traditional POTS telephones) to a beefy UPS like the CyberPower CP1000AVRLCD ($110), you could lose power for days and still keep your telephone service active so long as your ISP hasn't tanked as well. All it takes is a heart attack on day three of a five day snow-storm based blackout in a home with no generator, VoIP service and a dead cell phone battery to make the investment worth its weight in gold. It's a small investment for peace of mind, and provides additional protection above and beyond to help your electronics last longer (including longer life out of those cheap Chinese capacitors and MOSFETs before they fail).

Finally, as this is truly the lynch-pin for reducing your phone costs, we should touch on softphones for your smartphone that allow you to make and receive calls on your well-priced VoIP package without racking up cell minutes.

Sipdroid - free (OSS license) - Android only
https://market.android.com/details?id=org.sipdroid.sipua
This is an Android specific SIP phone and one of the most commonly used softphones for VoIP usage. It's free as in beer and speech, well supported within VoIP/SIP communities, and even has the capacity to integrate Google Voice in for "free" "outbound" calls over WiFi via a free VoIP account. It also integrates in with your address book.

3CX Phone - free (freeware) - iPhone, Android
http://www.3cx.com/VOIP/softphone.html
A cross-phone-platform softphone, it has its buggy moments, but works relatively well overall. No spiffy extra features, just your run of the mill VoIP phone software.

There's likely other paid and free options out there, so if you don't like these, RESEARCH. Don't just take my word for things with this guide and use whatever I recommend. Again, for this topic as with the VoIP providers, Broadband Reports is an indispensable resource.

Updated May 17, 2013 with current ATA devices on the market, and a link to a VoIP deployment article.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2013, 05:51:53 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #4 on: February 29, 2012, 06:47:33 PM »
Internet Service Providers (what you do and don't need)

As mentioned already at the beginning, you'd be surprised at how little bandwidth one actually needs from their ISPs. In this era of fiber to the home and demands of BIGGER FASTER MORE! from consumers, it's quite easy to lose track of how much bandwidth the average family actually needs to supply a regular stream of ones and zeroes to the house to provide a mess of services that other cables used to bring into our house. Realistically, most people can even in this day and age get by with no more than 3Mbps service. If you're gaming online, ping time, quality of the connection and how oversubscribed the ISP is in your area will matter more than your actual speed. If you're downloading large files, learn some patience. Voice services use very little bandwidth at all and can even squeak by on dial-up levels of bandwidth. If you're wanting to stream video, a high definition movie won't truly entertain you any more than the low definition version of the same piece... unless it's some sort of technological puff piece where lens flares and blue hair matter more than story and OHGOODGRIEFWHYWOULDYOUSPENDTWOTHOUSANDDOLLARSONATV-ANDSTILLWASTETWOHOURSOFYOURLIFEWATCHINGFERNGULLYINSPACEINTHREEDEE!

...but I digress. Good writing knows no bandwidth restrictions, and NTSC quality video is more than sufficient to get a good idea of what's going on without feeling like you have cataracts. If you can't see the wisdom in this statement, you're probably a media whore and likely need help with this part of your budget anyway... so pay attention. For streaming video, 3Mbps down is plenty for one feed, a phone call and light surfing all at the same time. It won't necessarily handle two video streams very well at the same time, but come on. If you're going to rot your brain away for a couple hours watching TV, make it a family event.

Knowing this, we can go into subscribing to an ISP confident of what we need and how much is reasonable per month to pay. 3Mbps down! National average of $40 a month (expensive for what it is, but that's deregulation for you)! Fantastic. Now, let's examine some of the potholes that might crop up on your quest for cheaper internet access.

Pothole #1 - oversubscribing and data throttling. Some ISPs, especially in the home consumer space, are money grubbing jerks. Some will oversell their available bandwidth for an area causing significant slowdowns during peak traffic periods (most commonly 5-9pm weekday evenings). Others will throttle certain providers or refuse to upgrade their back end to accommodate increased traffic from certain websites, frequently to make their own offerings more attractive (this is what the whole Net Neutrality argument thing you've likely heard about over the years actually concerns). This is where researching the ISPs you have available in your area on a site like Broadband Reports is useful and reading the fine print of your Terms of Service agreement are necessary. Find out in advance if there's problems in your area from specific providers, the nature of that problem, and what the ISP is actually legally bound to do about it. Also remember that with residential service, there's no guarantee of specific speeds being provided by the ISP. Please forgive me for saying this because I feel as though it should be a given with the audience being addressed, but get what you pay for and pay for what you get. If the ISP is incapable of providing what you're paying for after dealing with tech support, don't expect that buying a higher tier of residential service from that obviously crappy provider is going to magically fix your throughput problems. Let your money do the talking and either drop down to the speed package they're actually providing or take your business elsewhere. The 3Mbps ideal is there to facilitate in streaming video and potentially supply free entertainment as a cable/satellite replacement, but isn't entirely necessary for the rest of your services. The most important supported services will be VoIP and your general internet usage habits... the rest is gravy.

If you're one of those unfortunate souls who is in the position of not getting what you're paying for and don't have an alternative available, and you're bound and determined to stream internet video reliably (or just need a reliable internet connection), look into the business service offerings from same said ISP. They will be expensive, but that price will provide a Quality of Service guarantee of uptime and minimum bandwidth speeds provided. Obviously, if you need your entertainment fix and are in this position, shop around for alternatives as internet video isn't going to be a practical method of cheap entertainment. Heck, it's not even going to be a practical and reliable method for providing cheap phone services in your situation if this is a major issue. This is a home user guide, after all. There's more extreme solutions to this problem, but it underscores the importance of scoping out all available resources and utilities involved with choosing a location to live and prioritizing what is actually important in your life and worth spending your hard earned resources on.

Pothole #2 - data metering. This one's becoming more and more ugly on a daily basis. ISPs left and right are deciding that users on smaller packages need less bandwidth, and try to push the cap down low enough that it potentially runs afoul of doing exactly what we're wanting to do. The worst offenders are cable ISPs like Cox, Comcast, Suddenlink, Charter and Warner. For example, we have Cox, and their $40/month 3Mbps down service is capped at 50GB of data a month. The good news is, despite our frequent streaming of video (around 30 hours a month), we're still well under that cap. Ironically, the same amount of video streaming on a faster connection actually used more bandwidth yet rarely looked any better than what we have now. Our router calculates out on average about 30-35GB of traffic a month for us, which brings us to...

Pothole #2-A - lies, damn lies, and data metering statistics. Not all ISPs measure data the same way, and some ISPs have locally cached content that they won't penalize you for on your bandwidth. Cox is a great example on this, but in a good way for the customer. They frequently report on average about 20% lower on data usage per month than our router that runs DD-WRT reports (more on that later). Although we have a 50GB cap which is rather low amongst the 3Mbps plans, it's used well. Inversely, we have AT&T who are thieving crooks with their DSL metering. They make a habit of measuring bandwidth by adding on all the inflated PPPoE headers, rounding up, and sometimes just pulling traffic out of their asses, so even with a 150GB cap (currently) and their propensity to lower said caps while jacking prices up elsewhere in their marketing books, this is a very bad situation to be in as a customer. We used to be with AT&T prior to their data cap policy, then I saw their metered bandwidth on our connection in comparison to the reality reported from our router. 45GB of traffic was reported as roughly 78GB. Although ugly, it's not sinister. However, not slowing or suspending your account after hitting your cap in favor of billing you $10 per 10GB over with no rollover and that $10 being charged for just 1MB over... after past transgressions, this act inspired me to permanently blackball AT&T as any sort of direct billed primary carrier for any of my data for the rest of my natural born life, vowing I would rather do without than give them another nickel of my money. I also shot off an angry letter to the local public utilities commission demanding that if metered bandwidth were to be institutionalized with billing on overages, there needed to be a set standard to measuring bandwidth and metering practices that were regularly inspected for accuracy. I'm sure it promptly got ignored. YMMV.

Moral of the story? Be aware of bandwidth caps, and be aware of how honest your ISP is going to be with those measurements, and never trust their equipment to tell you how much data you're actually using if they want to bill you for overages.

Pothole #3 - service bundling. Some ISPs like to force you into bundling services together. Comcast is a great example of this as they hate giving people only internet access and actually had a history of charging more per month to internet only users than internet users who also ordered the basic channel TV package. Others like AT&T refuse to give third party DSL providers access to dry-loop installations forcing you to have a local only land line phone turned on with them for $20+ a month before you can subscribe to DSLExtreme where you can save $15 a month on their DSL service over AT&T's for the same price, making AT&T's dry-loop DSL the only and cheapest DSL option for your area at $40+taxes and regulatory fees. Be aware of what sort of price and service restrictions you're getting into with your ISP.

Pothole #4 - taxes and hidden fees. Some ISPs charge regulatory fees and taxes on top of the quoted fees per month. Others don't. The division line usually falls along which chunk of copper coming into your house is being used. Consider it fair warning, and keep it in mind when debating between cable and DSL.

Pothole #5 - Verizon FIOS and copper. This is a very specific situation to consider and deal with, but for those of you who had cut the copper line and ever had FIOS installed at your house and are now looking to save money by scaling back your services... good luck with that. What they didn't tell you during your fiber install is that they permanently severed your copper POTS cable going into your house, forever eliminating the slower, cheaper, traditional DSL service. Congratulations, you now get to spend an extra $25-30 a month for that same 1-3Mbps internet access because a shiny little light transmits your data now instead of an electrical pulse. Behold the march of progress!

Now that you're better equipped to handle how to comparison shop for your 3Mbps internet connection, let's look at the bright side on where you can actually save some money under specific provider and location situations!

The first one actually involves Verizon phone service areas. If you do happen to live in a Verizon area and FIOS hasn't been installed, you can actually get dry-loop access from DSLExtreme for $25+fees/month with a 1 year contract or $35+fees/month without contract.

If you happen to live in Time Warner or Comcast territory, look into signing up for your cable internet service through Earthlink instead of direct with the cable provider, as lower than advertised speed and overall lower price packages may be available to you without trying to argue with the cable sales reps to admit to the cheaper unadvertised internet packages that they offer (Basic package from Time Warner, Economy Plus package from Comcast).

A couple new options have cropped up thanks to Bakari's initial feedback and knowledge of DSL service options out in the California Bay area. First, if you're in an AT&T or other non-Verizon local exchange area for your phone service, check into the price after tax of barebones metered local service (it's a home phone account that bills you per minute on outbound local calling). Some regions/providers will be cheaper than others, but if you can't get cheap dry loop DSL and you are in a third party DSL service area that an outfit like DSL Extreme can service and you can get that phone line service for less than about $15/month, it might be worth looking into going that route instead as it still might save you a few bucks, even if the phone line itself is pretty useless outside of incoming and 911 calls.

The other option brought up by Bakari (not in this thread) is Sonic.net for DSL service in California. Their straight up vanilla DSL package prices seem to be in a bit of flux currently, but are mostly competitive with DSL Extreme if you stay under contract, and have even better customer service. More importantly though is Sonic.net's new Fusion broadband/phone service available in roughly about 80% of the SF Bay area (as of March 2012). I know that normally bundling services like this frequently winds up costing more than less, but Fusion is a very special exception. Subscribing to their Fusion service will turn on a DSL connection at the fastest rate your phone line will support, take over your traditional POTS phone line, and give you internet access up to 20Mbps with no data caps and unlimited phone calls to the United States and Canada for $40 plus tax a month. That's it. No ATA equipment for making calls, no need for a UPS to keep phone service active during a blackout, no watching over data usage, no cutting back on data speeds to save money. A flat $40 for all you can eat home phone and as fast as available ADSL2+ internet as they can provide.

Also don't be afraid of trying for even lower bandwidth service per month if it's a significant savings option with your ISP. Just be sure to check for data caps and try throttling your connection at your router to the lower speed first to see how much it will impact things overall, but do keep in mind that one can still stream Hulu at its lowest compression rate even over a 768kbps down connection under most circumstances. The reason for the 3Mbps rule of thumb is more an erring on the side of caution and price versus speed suggestion. I'd rather recommend overkill for most usage scenarios than just enough.

Of all the sections, this one will benefit the most from your hard work, diligence and research. And as before, Broadband Reports is one of the best resources for researching ISPs.

Updated March 2nd to include forgotten topic of oversubscribing and data throttling.
Updated March 9th to include Earthlink cable service in TWC/Comcast service areas.
Updated April 1st to include metered local phone pricing with DSL and Sonic.net for CA users. No foolin'.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2012, 10:59:43 AM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #5 on: February 29, 2012, 06:48:01 PM »
Miscellaneous Hardware & Software (the remaining parts to your budget telecommunications powerhouse)

Let's start by going over modems and routers.

For cable users, Motorola typically makes a decent modem with the SB5101U immediately coming to mind. Also keep in mind that unless your cable ISP demands you use a DOCSIS 3.0 compatible device, you don't actually need one for the speeds you'll be using. It should be pointed out though that some cable ISPs might require DOCSIS 3.0 in the near to near-distant future as the IPv6 network addressing transition comes along. Although IPv6 support has been added onto the DOCSIS 2.0 spec, some of the modems around may not have been updated with firmware supporting it or implementation might not be as robust, and some providers may just mandate a switch to DOCSIS 3.0 to ease their support issues. If this possibility does concern you, spend a little extra on a DOCSIS 3.0 modem like the Motorola SB6120.

For DSL users, ADSL2+ compatible Westell modems have been the most robust from my experiences over the years, but it's hard to find DSL modems for sale direct to the end user anymore as most DSL providers hand them out for free when you start your service. Sometimes you get lucky and find the things down at your local Goodwill for $3, though. Given most DSL providers provide your modem for you, don't concern yourself much with the whole IPv6 support transition as they'll take care of it. If you're using and configuring your own hardware, I doubt this will be an issue for you either.

For routers (if you don't already have one), currently the best bang for the buck router is the Asus RT-N12 which goes for around $45 these days via Newegg.com and Amazon. It does wireless B/G/N and supports the DD-WRT firmware. If you want to turn your router into a media/print server as well, spend the extra $10 on the Asus RT-N13 so you get a USB port on there and can plug in your USB printers and hard drives. Now, what's so important about being able to install DD-WRT firmware on your router? Well, long story short, the features supplied with this custom third party firmware greatly exceed functionality provided by the stock firmware provided by the manufacturer. So great are these features, that they're capable of converting a $50 router into a feature comparable $500 Cisco business router. DD-WRT supports data throttling, bandwidth metering, quality of service settings, advanced security settings, DNS-O-Matic support for linking a customized OpenDNS account and/or DynDNS name hosting to your dynamic IP address generating ISP to simplify remote system access if you so need, for-pay hotspot access (if you choose to open yourself up to that liability), and SIP and data servers, just to start. There's also Tomato firmware which some view as a superior option to DD-WRT, but doesn't support as many routers.

Next, let's look at internet video streaming.

For those of you looking to do a Home Theater PC to take advantage of streaming content on your TV to make up for not having cable TV? An entire lengthy subject could be spent on this topic alone, but for the sake of brevity (ha!), let's keep it simple. Any old beater desktop or laptop you have kicking around that you can connect to your TV is fine. If it can run Windows XP, Mythbuntu, or XBMCbuntu and full screen SD (480p or lower) Flash video without acting like it will crap itself, you're fine. Install a front end like XBMC, buy a cheap media center remote, install Flash and Hulu Desktop, work a little configuration magic, and you're good to go. You can even chuck in a cheap ATSC/QAM tuner and turn it into a DVR if you have enough drive space. Just be sure to turn it off when you're done to save electricity.

If you're starting from scratch, buy a cheap little Intel Atom based machine with an Nvidia ION GPU and load up OpenELEC. Quick and dirty. Even cheaper, if you don't mind losing Flash video sources, buy a $35 Raspberry Pi and load XBMC on it.

Some people will buy things like a Roku box or AppleTV or the like to stream media to their televisions, but there's a bit of a downside to these devices... they're specifically designed and set up to bleed you for more money and get you hooked on al-la-carte content purchasing. Hulu+ is a good example of this as you can't use Hulu at all on a Roku box without subscribing to Hulu+. Using a proper computer will not preclude you from still purchasing and subscribing to content if you want it, but far more content is available for free if you don't use one of these cheap little dedicated boxes.

Lastly on the hardware end, anyone looking to simplify and return back a more newspaper sort of news update style era, and are tired of reading news on their smart phones or wasting electricity with their desktops just to catch up with the world... might I suggest the following: The Barnes and Noble Nook Simple Touch, rooted, and running JustReader for your RSS feeds. It may seem a bit extravagant buying a $100 e-ink tablet gizmo (you can get 'em as cheap as $75 through their refurb eBay store and used off others), but this small extravagant purchase has made for a more positive change in my life that has resulted in less unproductive farting around on the internet saving electricity and time better spent elsewhere, helps me plow through the daily news updates and comic strip reading frivolity quicker, and given the passively lit screen aping paper, I don't find reading the news in the evening before heading to bed quite as disruptive to my sleep patterns. I can also have it double as a regular e-book reader as it was originally intended, provide quick access weather forecasts, act as a TV guide, and be usable as a Google Voice dialer and address book for the home phone. It's not an incredible investment, but it could be if you are one of the few remaining newspaper subscribers on the planet and hate staring into a blue light to be informed of the latest happenings or just find yourself getting itchy from spending too much time online.

Finally, software.

Since we've briefly touched on software already through mentioning JustReader, DD-WRT, a couple Linux HTPC distros, and XBMC... let's keep the topic going for a bit. Currently, for an HTPC front end, XBMC 11.0 (Eden) has become the most versatile top dog across all platforms, but does need slightly beefier graphics processing as it requires OpenGL 2.0 or DirectX 9.0 or better to run. Adding on bluecop's repository to XBMC opens up a massive amount of streaming content as well.

As for cell phones, I should mention a few tools and tricks to maximize your data usage and minimize its billed amount. As I focused primarily on Android smartphones being the best option, I'll keep (for now) primary focus on that platform. For data management tools, JuiceDefender and Onavo's Data Monitor are the two best utilities. JuiceDefender can completely turn off wireless data usage while the phone is in standby or update at only fixed intervals. Onavo monitors application data usage and allows you to disable most applications from gaining network access if desired. Additionally, Onavo's app has the option of compressing your phone's data usage farther through a compression proxy if you're running Android 4.0 ICS... keep in mind that using proxy services allows others to snoop on your traffic, though. Opera Mini for browsing can significantly cut data usage as well by using Opera's own proxy services, same privacy caveat applies.

For keeping your (hopefully) WiFi enabled Android phone on as many authorized WiFi hotspots as possible and minimizing network data, usage of a tool like Auto WiFi Toggle will ensure your phone auto-connects to your preferred WiFi networks automatically. One word of caution, though: an application like this can potentially kill battery life depending on the frequency of checking and network signal strength. Of course, you'll want to dig through all your applications and system preferences to prefer WiFi as the primary data network, and turn off auto-sync entirely or drastically drop the frequency of syncing of all applications as well. For those you can't disable and are proving to be troublesome, if you're feeling daring, you should consider rooting* and securing your phone. Every phone roots differently, but there's a lot of resources available over at XDA Developers Forum on how to do it. XDA Devs is also a useful community in general for maximizing the usefulness out of your mobile smartphone. For securing your now security vulnerable Android phone, you'll want to install an application called Superuser. Once the phone has been rooted, however, you're given access to uninstall some uninstallable applications, tweak some extra settings, and utilize some traffic blocking utilities like AdFree. Ultimately, advertising in free apps is going to hurt your bandwidth and battery usage as well, so spend the money on the paid version of the applications instead.

*Rooting is only a possible option (and possibly even illegal in some jurisdictions), but can potentially brick your phone or worse when done by inexperienced hands. I am not advocating rooting your phone as a cost saving measure or or any other possibly conceivable reason, in fact, DON'T DO IT. If you ignore this warning and do it anyway, you're on your own. Even though this entire guide is purely caveat emptor, take at face value and with no held responsibility to me for whatever inaccuracies there are financially or otherwise... I may attempt to update and correct any info based on your feedback, but I will definitely not take responsibility for or even help you in trashing or repairing your subsequently trashed phone.

Conclusion:

There you go, there's the entire secret sauce to cutting your telecommunications and entertainment budget for two people down to well under $70 a month (as of February 2012). As you can see, the missus and I even have room within our own budget to potentially save more money and squeeze down costs by another $10 by switching to VOIPo during the right bundle sale and dropping Amazon Prime entirely (if only). Theoretically, if you lived in the right place and were willing to pay in year blocks/go under contract with DSLExtreme as your ISP (getting your internet down to $25 a month plus fees) and could use PlatinumTel as your cell provider, a single person could potentially live large with their internet, home phone, cell phone and free internet TV combined with OTA broadcasts for under $40 a month, easy... and not feel as though they're drastically depriving themselves of anything.

Anyway, I hope you fellow mustachians find this guide as useful as I found it fun learning and distilling the information down over the years. If you have any questions, comments, improvements, suggestions, concerns, etc. Post away and I shall update and respond accordingly.

Updated March 1st with brief info regarding modem compatibility and IPv6 transition.
Updated April 1st with software recommendations - primarily Android data minimizing information.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2012, 12:21:37 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #6 on: February 29, 2012, 06:48:30 PM »
Miscellaneous Resources

iPhone Users
Please read this post before posting any questions about how to migrate your iPhone over to an MVNO:
http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/share-your-badassity/communications-tech-isps-voip-cell/msg79034/#msg79034

As for potentially investing in iPhones in general if you haven't already, read this first:
http://www.techmeshugana.com/2013/01/are-iphones-worth-it/


Cell Phones
For GSM smartphone users who would like a 3FF micro-SIM punch to trim their prepaid 2FF mini-SIM cards down to size without busting out the scissors and a nail file, Naners has graciously started a SIM cutter exchange for our community:
http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/mustachian-marketplace/sim-cutter-exchange/

For anyone having trouble doing the math to figure out if breaking contract and paying off the ETF is worth it to save money with their cell phone provider, there's two useful calculators online:
My Rate Plan's ETF Calculator
Technical Meshugana's Wireless Plan Calculator

For those of you wanting to know if T-Mobile has made the transition over to 1900MHz PCS/UMTS 3G data coverage in your city, check with this map:
http://www.airportal.de/

For Canadians looking for alternate prepaid cellphone plans, there's a brief overview of all the providers here:
http://www.techmeshugana.com/2012/10/dial-c-for-canada-eh/


For Verizon Users
Verizon LTE users looking to go to Page Plus, please take note of this post:
http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/continue-the-blog-conversation/our-new-$10-00-per-month-iphone-plans/msg63233/#msg63233

Verizon iPhone 4/4s users looking to switch to Page Plus, read the exchange between The Dude and myself first:
http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/continue-the-blog-conversation/our-new-$10-00-per-month-iphone-plans/msg44819/#msg44819

Update for Verizon iPhone 5 users: just assume you will never be able to take your device to Page Plus, however the GSM slot is unlocked from the factory in compliance with an FCC mandate required in their spectrum used for LTE services, which means you can still use the device with any AT&T or T-Mobile GSM provider. This does not apply to Sprint iPhone 5 CDMA customers!  Finally, keep in mind that a Verizon iPhone 5 bought with subsidy and paid off with the ETF is still $50 more than buying a GSM unlocked iPhone 5.



Added new miscellaneous cellphone content April 23, 2013.
Added new link for iPhone users May 1, 2013.
Added new link for T-Mobile GSM-1900 data coverage, reformatted post August 21, 2013.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2013, 07:17:49 AM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2012, 11:03:06 AM »
For cable users, Motorola typically makes a decent modem with the SB5101U immediately coming to mind. Also keep in mind that unless your cable ISP demands you use a DOCSIS 3.0 compatible device, you don't actually need one for the speeds you'll be using, so save that money and buy a cheaper DOCSIS 2.0 model instead.

I would say here that people should likely NOT skimp on the cost of a DOCSIS 3.0 modem. While DOCSIS 2.0 has had IPv6 support added as part of the spec. that is largely dependent upon hardware manufacturer support and it is flaky. IPv6 may seem far off to people, but IPv4 space has been completely allocated to the RIR's now and we will likely be completely out of IPv4 space in the next year and a half and forced into IPv6. This is a situation where I would say it makes more sense to future proof and spend a little extra money.

Good post/suggestions here though otherwise and ++++++++100000000 on your gripes with AT&T. They are horrible.

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2012, 11:20:40 AM »
I would say here that people should likely NOT skimp on the cost of a DOCSIS 3.0 modem. While DOCSIS 2.0 has had IPv6 support added as part of the spec. that is largely dependent upon hardware manufacturer support and it is flaky. IPv6 may seem far off to people, but IPv4 space has been completely allocated to the RIR's now and we will likely be completely out of IPv4 space in the next year and a half and forced into IPv6. This is a situation where I would say it makes more sense to future proof and spend a little extra money.

It's a fair point you've made regarding the whole DOCSIS 2.0/IPv6 transition (especially with cable modems), which is one of the reasons for the Moto Surfboard SB5101U recommendation. But it is fair to be cautious about other cheap, off-brand (or older) DOCSIS 2.0 modems as they may not survive the transition smoothly. And with that, I would be remiss to urge frugality over spending a bit extra for DOCSIS 3.0 support if one is truly concerned about the transition. That said, I've also been hearing the call of, "All IPv4 space is allocated, we'll be out of addresses in under XX months!" for what's felt like years now. IPv6 will be an ugly transition when it happens (and it will eventually happen), but just when you think it's going to get pressed into service earlier than later, the deadline keeps getting miraculously pushed back.
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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2012, 11:33:31 AM »
It's a fair point you've made regarding the whole DOCSIS 2.0/IPv6 transition (especially with cable modems), which is one of the reasons for the Moto Surfboard SB5101U recommendation. But it is fair to be cautious about other cheap, off-brand (or older) DOCSIS 2.0 modems as they may not survive the transition smoothly. And with that, I would be remiss to urge frugality over spending a bit extra for DOCSIS 3.0 support if one is truly concerned about the transition. That said, I've also been hearing the call of, "All IPv4 space is allocated, we'll be out of addresses in under XX months!" for what's felt like years now. IPv6 will be an ugly transition when it happens (and it will eventually happen), but just when you think it's going to get pressed into service earlier than later, the deadline keeps getting miraculously pushed back.

People have certainly been preaching doom and gloom for awhile but a lot of large providers are on board now after the success of World IPv6 Day. Here is a good presentation that happened at NANOG 54 last month about it:

http://www.nanog.org/meetings/nanog54/presentations/Wednesday/Daigle.pdf

AT&T, Cox, Comcast, TW Cable, Google, Netflix, and a lot more big eyeball and content networks are on board and while they've only committed to 1% of traffic using IPv6 that's a huge amount of traffic when you talk about the scale these providers are working at.

/disclaimer I work for a service provider scrambling to prepare for a large IPv6 deployment so it's always fresh in my mind.

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2012, 11:59:10 AM »
People have certainly been preaching doom and gloom for awhile but a lot of large providers are on board now after the success of World IPv6 Day. Here is a good presentation that happened at NANOG 54 last month about it:

http://www.nanog.org/meetings/nanog54/presentations/Wednesday/Daigle.pdf

AT&T, Cox, Comcast, TW Cable, Google, Netflix, and a lot more big eyeball and content networks are on board and while they've only committed to 1% of traffic using IPv6 that's a huge amount of traffic when you talk about the scale these providers are working at.

/disclaimer I work for a service provider scrambling to prepare for a large IPv6 deployment so it's always fresh in my mind.

Point well taken with that bit of news that slid past my radar, I shall adjust the recommendations shortly and highlight the necessity for IPv6 pre-prep as a cost saving measure (even if we may still be looking at years and a couple dead modems replaced before most of the end-users are directly impacted - better to be prepared as the Scouts say). :)

Edit: Done!
« Last Edit: March 01, 2012, 12:14:32 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2012, 06:16:37 AM »
Wow, there's a lot here to read, and I'll get back to it, but I wanted to post a reply about the assumption that 3mbps is plenty of speed for your internet connection.  You are generally correct, assuming you are actually receiving the speed you pay for.  When I had 6mbps through my cable provider I could not watch HD netflix streams without pauses to buffer every 15 minutes.  This really ruins the mood when you're in the middle of a movie.  In practice I was receiving about 768k in download speeds because apparently I'm in a pretty wired up neighborhood. 

Once I switched to AT&T DSL 6mbps I actually received .... wait for it..... 6mbps!

At that point I could be watching a full HD stream from netflix while browsing the web and downloading whatever I wanted.   So I guess the point it, make sure you get what you are paying for.

Now back to reading this novel ;)

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2012, 11:41:42 AM »
Wow, there's a lot here to read, and I'll get back to it, but I wanted to post a reply about the assumption that 3mbps is plenty of speed for your internet connection.  You are generally correct, assuming you are actually receiving the speed you pay for.  When I had 6mbps through my cable provider I could not watch HD netflix streams without pauses to buffer every 15 minutes.  This really ruins the mood when you're in the middle of a movie.  In practice I was receiving about 768k in download speeds because apparently I'm in a pretty wired up neighborhood. 

Once I switched to AT&T DSL 6mbps I actually received .... wait for it..... 6mbps!

At that point I could be watching a full HD stream from netflix while browsing the web and downloading whatever I wanted.   So I guess the point it, make sure you get what you are paying for.

Now back to reading this novel ;)

Adam, I took your post as an excellent reminder on a subject I forgot to cover on ISP shopping and an ideal teaching opportunity. If you haven't already seen it, the ISP guide should now have five listed potholes with Oversubscribing and Data Throttling listed as the first.

If you already read that with or without the new addition, you likely already know my reaction to the "full HD stream from netflix" portion of your comment, but only scratches at the surface of the actual situation.

It's important for subscribers to understand the difference between Mbps and MB/s or KB/s. 768KB/s if that's what you're actually stating as being provided via your cable provider (which is likely as you wouldn't be able to stream Netflix at all if you were actually getting 768Kbps, let alone have it stream "HD" just fine outside of brief buffering breaks every 15 minutes) is actually about spot on for what 6Mbps service supplies as reported by your OS for max download speeds. If I may go back briefly to the SMS text message data usage example to highlight the difference, there is a difference between a bit and a byte in that there's 8 bits to 1 byte, and ISPs are selling their data speeds in bit notation instead of byte partly because it makes the service sound more impressive to the unwashed masses by using larger numbers. Operating systems though mostly use byte notation for reporting everything from file size to network traffic speeds, so that is where the confusion frequently arises. For the record, understand that 3Mbps is going to translate into roughly 375KB/s. Here's a link for a good conversion calculator to help clear up the differences.

I would also like to point out that genuine streaming 720p@24+fps HD video requires on average an end to end data throughput of a barebones minimum dedicated throughput of 5Mbps with the best of middleware and compression codecs 100% of the way, but real world usage with ISPs usually require far more, and I would state that anyone using a 6Mbps or slower connection who thinks they're watching HD video actually are not. This reality both highlights how psychological and subjective HD video really is, and how much bandwidth is actually required on average to stream HD content via most ISPs. You want genuine HD streaming, expect to get at least a 10-15Mbps connection and still don't expect it as the norm as just because you're paying for 15Mbps from your house to your ISP, it doesn't guarantee that you'll get 15Mbps from your house to the content server that's hosting your video files as traffic loads and infrastructure between points A and B will fluctuate. Knowing this is one of the reasons why I advocate just being happy and settling for SD video stream quality which can be easily served via a 3Mbps connection. It saves you money, sets your expectations realistically, and in reality reflects closer to the actual video stream quality you're going to get no matter what most days.

Finally, the jump going from your cable internet provider to AT&T highlights how different providers can impact quality of service from certain websites and ties into the mentioned topic regarding oversubscribing bandwidth (which can happen on the local, regional and national levels) and network neutrality. In the case of Netflix, some ISPs are going to have better peering agreements with Level3 (Netflix's backbone provider) than others... Comcast is a great example of this situation, because I don't think there's a person on Earth who uses Comcast who has absolutely glowing things to say about the Netflix streaming experience during peak traffic hours.

Anyway, on our connection at home with our service, we can't stream HD video like Vimeo, Youtube, Amazon VOD, Hulu+, or Netflix... and we're okay with that. We just turn it off and set the default to 480p or lower, sit back and enjoy. Heck, if you're streaming to an old standard definition analog tube television? You might be surprised to discover that with most sets, you'll see very little visual difference between 480p and 240p with most streaming content providers.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2012, 12:09:30 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2012, 12:15:55 PM »
Wow I am impressed with your guide. Lots of good infor. I do take issue this statement on pageplus

"Their banned provider and model list is comically long, so you're literally better off just buying one of their phones."

I would never buy one of their devices. They are old over priced phones. All you need to know is no Verizon prepaid phones and no blackberries. Other than that pretty much any Verizon phone will work. Technically they say no but I have never had any problems. The down side is no tech support but that's what forums are for.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2012, 12:56:12 PM »
Wow I am impressed with your guide. Lots of good infor. I do take issue this statement on pageplus

"Their banned provider and model list is comically long, so you're literally better off just buying one of their phones."

I would never buy one of their devices. They are old over priced phones. All you need to know is no Verizon prepaid phones and no blackberries. Other than that pretty much any Verizon phone will work. Technically they say no but I have never had any problems. The down side is no tech support but that's what forums are for.

That's only partially true, as the smartphone list is longer than just Blackberries and no Verizon prepaid, and doesn't even touch on an issue that doesn't get brought up much. There's an oddball random ~2% BYOD device ban that's been going on for years on their network that nobody's been able to get to the bottom of (read HowardForums long enough, you'll see the threads). I agree that their phones are old and overpriced (at least from a used market and new with contract price standpoint), but given the full restrictions it means the used phone you have must not be one of the potentially bannable smartphone models, is a Verizon standard phone model out of contract and with a clean ESN and not a refurb model, not a competing CDMA or CDMA MVNO service provider handset, and you're comfortable taking a gamble on that 1 in 50 shot of eventually having your handset banned anyway. As such, the ban list is comical and restrictive for a BYOD provider, and for the average user might not be worth going through the effort of hunting down a handset that escapes those restrictions and still meets the smartphone with WiFi requirements needed for maximum cost savings offered by this guide.

You can technically BYOD to PlatinumTel as well, but you're hit with an even more restrictive list, and to me, BYOD means just that: Bring Your Own Device. As an example, H2O is just that. They don't care if you're bringing over a T-Mobile phone or an O2 phone from the UK or some off-the-wall Chinese handset bought off DealExtreme. If it's GSM and network unlocked (or AT&T network locked), (excluding network data configuration if needed) it will just work. That is true BYOD.

This is one of the many reasons why PagePlus is not one of my more favorite providers unless you're willing to truly put the effort into supporting yourself. Too many gotchas... but they're still a superior option to America Movil's offerings by both price and support, and more BYOD friendly than most other prepaid CDMA carriers. So they're worth mentioning for those reasons.

I'm very happy and relieved to know that you have been able to do it yourself and haven't hit any problems, but I stand by my claim.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2012, 01:13:51 PM by I.P. Daley »
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #15 on: March 02, 2012, 02:03:40 PM »
Wow I am impressed with your guide. Lots of good infor. I do take issue this statement on pageplus

"Their banned provider and model list is comically long, so you're literally better off just buying one of their phones."

I would never buy one of their devices. They are old over priced phones. All you need to know is no Verizon prepaid phones and no blackberries. Other than that pretty much any Verizon phone will work. Technically they say no but I have never had any problems. The down side is no tech support but that's what forums are for.

That's only partially true, as the smartphone list is longer than just Blackberries and no Verizon prepaid, and doesn't even touch on an issue that doesn't get brought up much. There's an oddball random ~2% BYOD device ban that's been going on for years on their network that nobody's been able to get to the bottom of (read HowardForums long enough, you'll see the threads). I agree that their phones are old and overpriced (at least from a used market and new with contract price standpoint), but given the full restrictions it means the used phone you have must not be one of the potentially bannable smartphone models, is a Verizon standard phone model out of contract and with a clean ESN and not a refurb model, not a competing CDMA or CDMA MVNO service provider handset, and you're comfortable taking a gamble on that 1 in 50 shot of eventually having your handset banned anyway. As such, the ban list is comical and restrictive for a BYOD provider, and for the average user might not be worth going through the effort of hunting down a handset that escapes those restrictions and still meets the smartphone with WiFi requirements needed for maximum cost savings offered by this guide.

You can technically BYOD to PlatinumTel as well, but you're hit with an even more restrictive list, and to me, BYOD means just that: Bring Your Own Device. As an example, H2O is just that. They don't care if you're bringing over a T-Mobile phone or an O2 phone from the UK or some off-the-wall Chinese handset bought off DealExtreme. If it's GSM and network unlocked (or AT&T network locked), (excluding network data configuration if needed) it will just work. That is true BYOD.

This is one of the many reasons why PagePlus is not one of my more favorite providers unless you're willing to truly put the effort into supporting yourself. Too many gotchas... but they're still a superior option to America Movil's offerings by both price and support, and more BYOD friendly than most other prepaid CDMA carriers. So they're worth mentioning for those reasons.

I'm very happy and relieved to know that you have been able to do it yourself and haven't hit any problems, but I stand by my claim.

I guess you and I agree to disagree. Although I do fully admit their customer service sucks and you very much have to go it alone, its really pretty easy. I do read Hofo and I have no idea what you are talking about when you say some phones are randomly banned. If you read hofo you should realize that you can make any phone work (even a iPhone thought they are technically banned or a sprint phone which takes lots of work). I have personally switched over 4 smart phones (they were all used verizon phones) with out any problems.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #16 on: March 02, 2012, 03:05:32 PM »
I guess you and I agree to disagree. Although I do fully admit their customer service sucks and you very much have to go it alone, its really pretty easy. I do read Hofo and I have no idea what you are talking about when you say some phones are randomly banned. If you read hofo you should realize that you can make any phone work (even a iPhone thought they are technically banned or a sprint phone which takes lots of work). I have personally switched over 4 smart phones (they were all used verizon phones) with out any problems.

I'm perfectly happy to agree to disagree with you on that subject. :)

For clarity, however...

I readily admit that it is possible to bring over other CDMA phones via firmware flashes and ESN spoofing, but 1) that's technically against PagePlus and Verizon policy potentially resulting in deactivation anyway, and 2) falls outside the scope of most end user skills. Just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be recommended as a primary course of action. That's why I said what I did. PagePlus is fantastic for out of contract Verizon refugees jumping off and taking handsets with (and I should edit to include this bit), but I feel the waters start to get a bit treacherous for the Average Joe after that point. Besides, this is supposed to be a simple (ha!) overview guide for all services, not a nuts-and bolts of maximizing handset compatibility to wring every last cent of money out of your investment with a single BYOD CDMA MVNO. For most people who value their time and know not of our dark arts, I firmly believe that buying a refurbished, pre-configured PagePlus smartphone from a reseller will be worth the money. Besides, even a $100 handset has an excellent ROI when you're potentially able to cut your monthly mobile expenses by 80% or more. If you're saving $50 a month, the handset's paid for itself in two months.

Now, I'll also admit that I am working on slightly more dated PagePlus info (as are you, apparently - it appears that some Blackberries are permitted now), but here's a couple links I found Googling regarding phone restriction lists and the 2% registration failure stemming from problems with a buggered Verizon ESN database. They also have a hard to deny sordid history of BYOD problems over the years that should be considered. The linked info's dated to early 2010 (sounds about right memory wise), but I doubt things have improved much since. I don't particularly stalk the P+ HoFo section much anymore since my evangelical conversion to P'tel.

But there you go, now you know why I said what I did. I appreciate your perspective, feedback, and success; but I feel it important that you (and others) understand where I'm coming from when I say, "Their banned provider and model list is comically long, so you're literally better off just buying one of their phones."
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #17 on: March 02, 2012, 04:30:12 PM »
I'm definitely interested in this OpenELEC thing.  Do you really thing you could run it on one of those Raspberry Pi devices though? I saw a bunch of news about them today and I think the specs were 700mhz 256mb ram?


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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #18 on: March 02, 2012, 05:33:17 PM »
I'm definitely interested in this OpenELEC thing.  Do you really thing you could run it on one of those Raspberry Pi devices though? I saw a bunch of news about them today and I think the specs were 700mhz 256mb ram?

OpenELEC is a custom HTPC Linux build for low power x86 hardware like the Intel Atom platform, and there likely won't be a build of it for the Pi.

As for the Pi running XBMC, it's already been demonstrated as not only running, but able to do hardware level decoding of 1080p h.264 encoded video. It's important to understand, however, that running ARM based hardware means you won't get any commercial software support for things like Adobe Flash (90+% of the DRM locked streaming media on the internet from Hulu to Amazon) or Microsoft Silverlight (Netflix - and impossible even under x86 Linux). This means short of a shift to HTML5-based encrypted video from content providers, it's pretty much a no-go for anything but Youtube, Vimeo and downloadable video content that doesn't have DRM which eliminates about 99.9% of the legitimate, non-copyright infringing content available to watch online. Great for watching content from stupid cat videos to TED talks or as a playback device for homebrew DVR recorded content, but not much else.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2012, 05:35:15 PM by I.P. Daley »
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #19 on: March 04, 2012, 05:49:55 AM »
IP Daley thank you so much for publishing a lot of useful information.  I looked at PlatinumTel based on your posts, and I just might set us up with that.

I'm 62 and DW is 58, so we are not the most fluent in connectivity.  Here is our current setup:

OTA broadcast from an attic antenna I installed myself, which is connected by cable outlets to every room in the house.
Charter high speed internet only, recently raised in price from $44.99 a month to $47.99 a month.  I get about 13MB download and 3MB upload on average.  I do seem to have to reset my modem and router once every couple of weeks as it stops working. Rokus in two rooms, which allows us to watch Hulu Plus $7.99 and Netflix $7.99.  So we definitely have plenty of TV to watch.

Then we each have a Virgin Mobile android phone, LG Optimus V, which for $26.72 a month apiece gets us 300 minutes and unlimited texts and data.  The plan currently costs $35 a month, but apparently we are grandfathered in to the $25 plan.  Voice works good for us.  I have been using about 200 mins a month, DW uses about 50 mins a month.  She likes the phone because I have all her contacts set up on Google contacts, and she just points to contacts, selects a contact, presses call an presto it is working.  She even can figure out how to update a contact as required.  I agree about what do we need data for, these are just emergency and quick convenience calls such as honey I will be late blah blah. So I'm going to look real hard at PlatinumTel, maybe get the HTC Hero phones.

Finally, we use Phone Power for our VOIP.  We've had it about a year and a half of the two years prepaid, it cost $200 plus $36 a year for "fees, taxes, Fed, whatever" so $272/24 months or $11.33 a month.  I don't think we'll change this, it works well, and e911 is peace of mind for us, when the chips are down I just want to pick up the nearest phone and dial 911.

Compared to many of our spendthrift neighbors and friends, we are positively cheap, but there's always room for improvement, so thanks again for your posts.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #20 on: March 04, 2012, 04:03:43 PM »
Thanks for the positive feedback there, Frugalman! All it takes is knowing that my research and shared knowledge has directly helped one person to save some money to make typing it up worth the time and effort. I'm a happy camper. Thank you!

I definitely agree with you in that of all the things you could change, it looks like just the switch from Virgin to P'tel is going to have the biggest budgetary impact out of all the items suggested in the guide with about a $40 net savings per month based on your usage patterns. Best part is, since you *are* switching from Virgin, you already know you'll have good reception in your area as both are Sprint network based MVNOs with identical coverage maps.

A little tip if you hadn't noticed, but depending on what phone you purchase, they do have coupon coupon incentives. Currently, certain android and messaging phones are being advertised with $50 (180 day) airtime coupon codes with purchase (check their front page special offers), but it doesn't look like the Hero qualifies. It's also worth checking what coupon codes are available over at RetailMeNot. With the right phone selection and coupon bonus, you can frequently offset a great deal of the initial purchase cost, and it helps that unused time rolls over with top-ups. Speaking of, as a way to always ensure service, I make it a personal policy to never allow the balance to drop below one month's average usage no matter how much airtime is left. This ensures you don't ever run into a situation of heavy (for you) usage that results in you running out of minutes in the middle of a conversation, and P'tel has customizable balance notification settings on your account profile.

Your 911 comment did remind me that I didn't mention in the writeup that VOIPo does provide e911 service as part of that base cost (corrected the oversight), and I agree with you that having the option to dial 911 from any phone is priceless. Phone Power's a good provider for the price from what I've gathered, and if you're happy with their service, it might not be worth the effort to switch right now. Fiscal control and savings is one thing, but sometimes loyalty to and a history with a quality provider for a small premium is worth it. It's why we've personally stayed with F9 for so long. Given your positive comments and the average monthly price, if you'll either post in this thread or PM me a brief write-up with pros and cons of doing business with them, I'll go ahead and add PP to the recommended VoIP list.

As for most everything else, it looks like mostly nickel and dime saving for the most part. It's the sort of cost cutting that happens more with priority shifts than fiscal decisions, and the potential of $90/month for internet, home phone, two cell phones, and two entertainment subscriptions is still a good deal in this country and less than some couples spend only on their cell phone bills. Kudos!
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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #21 on: March 04, 2012, 04:11:42 PM »
Home Telephone Service (VoIP providers)

VOIPo - http://www.voipo.com/
A feature rich VoIP provider that although is relatively expensive for month-to-month payment, has had bundled offers that have dropped the price of service as low as $5.30/month for 5,000 minutes or less so long as you pay in yearly chunks. Many of the convenience factors of Google Voice like number blocking are available with this service, as is e911 at no additional cost. They also provide a free ATA bridge for use with their service so long as your account is active, though they'll soak you if you return the device after your service expires or is canceled. Officially they also state they don't support third party devices, but their official support forums have an entire section devoted to community supported third party devices.
Pros: Good call quality. Reasonably good customer support. One of the cheapest total package VoIP providers. e911 included as part of basic service. Thriving support forums for DIY users. Supports SIP-to-SIP calling to any SIP provider. Similar features to Google Voice. Free number porting. US and Canada treated as the same calling area. Softphone access (use with your WiFi enabled Android). 30 day trial with full refund if canceled.
Cons: Good pricing only in one year/two year chunks, canceling service gets used months billed at full $15/month price before refund. "Free" leased ATA has expensive return costs if returned outside of active service dates.



Thank you!  I'm totally checking out VoIPo.  I currently have Vonage Lite, which after taxes and fees is $17.09/month (and it just went up to that from $14.51).  With VoIPo, and I only saw one plan for residential and it was unlimited calling at $149 for 2 years (with taxes and fees it's $185), that comes out to be $7.71/month....nearly a $10/month savings!  And I can take my number with me!!!

I've been happy with Vonage (whom I ran to as a refugee from Verizon FiOS phone bundled with my internet and TV....what am f-ing racket!!), but I like that I can get essentially the same service, but cheaper.  Thanks for the post!!
"While money can't buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery." - Groucho Marx

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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #22 on: March 04, 2012, 04:40:11 PM »
Thank you!  I'm totally checking out VoIPo.  I currently have Vonage Lite, which after taxes and fees is $17.09/month (and it just went up to that from $14.51).  With VoIPo, and I only saw one plan for residential and it was unlimited calling at $149 for 2 years (with taxes and fees it's $185), that comes out to be $7.71/month....nearly a $10/month savings!  And I can take my number with me!!!

I've been happy with Vonage (whom I ran to as a refugee from Verizon FiOS phone bundled with my internet and TV....what am f-ing racket!!), but I like that I can get essentially the same service, but cheaper.  Thanks for the post!!

Great to hear! Good thing is (if you haven't ordered with a number port already and you want to), you can wait to port your number over until after you try out the service for a week or two. VOIPo has a good overall reputation, but as with all VoIP providers can be hit or miss occasionally depending on the quality of service you're getting with your ISP and their traffic loads to certain backbone providers. Yes, it does create a situation of double billing for phone service for a few days, but it gives you an opportunity to bail out with minimal financial penalty or hassle of re-re-porting your number if they don't work out for you for whatever reason. I don't foresee it as a problem, but I like playing things safe if you haven't noticed. ;)

Good luck, and let us know how the transfer goes!
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #23 on: March 04, 2012, 11:46:30 PM »
Not to bump my own thread, but just added to the wireless section information about free 911 only emergency calls with wireless handsets and information about CDMA phones and the ARN. It's important and useful safety information to know.
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #24 on: March 05, 2012, 03:01:33 PM »
Finally, the jump going from your cable internet provider to AT&T highlights how different providers can impact quality of service from certain websites and ties into the mentioned topic regarding oversubscribing bandwidth (which can happen on the local, regional and national levels) and network neutrality. In the case of Netflix, some ISPs are going to have better peering agreements with Level3 (Netflix's backbone provider) than others... Comcast is a great example of this situation, because I don't think there's a person on Earth who uses Comcast who has absolutely glowing things to say about the Netflix streaming experience during peak traffic hours.

This is actually a very interesting point (and slightly wrong) in light of the Level(3) vs. Comcast blow up that happened as a result of Netflix at the end of 2010:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-30686_3-20024571-266.html

Netflix uses different CDN's (Content Distribution Networks) to deliver their streaming content. Limelight and Akamai previously provided their CDN services and then Level(3) got into the CDN game with Netflix at the end of 2010. Comcast was purchasing transit from Level(3) at the time but Level(3)'s move into the CDN space radically flipped the ratio of traffic sent vs. received with Comcast. Level(3) made some outrageous demands to Comcast to provide additional capacity in a very short time frame as a result of this. When Comcast realized they were now being forced to pay for additional bandwidth to Level(3) to deliver content to their customers that was being delivered via settlement free peering agreements previously things blew up.

Level(3) accused Comcast of hating net neutrality (or something like that...) and Comcast put out the facts and negotiated a new deal with Level(3) that probably involved a much reduced cost for transit or (possibly) a settlement free peering arrangement.

The reason this is important is Netflix currently streams from 3 different content networks. Akamai, who deploys servers on different service provider networks and caches streams for local users, Limelight Networks, who runs their own content distribution network and arranges peering agreements directly with different service providers, and now Level(3), who is abusing their position as one of the largest global internet backbone providers to provide CDN services and force their existing customers to pay for their CDN content (double dipping) when, in cases like Netflix, many people were getting it free from previous peering arrangements.

The silver lining in this cloud for everyone is that Netflix is deploying their own content caching solution on service provider networks that will put the content closer to users and drive down transit costs which should (but may not) result in cheaper and better service to the end user.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #25 on: March 07, 2012, 07:16:08 AM »
Thanks for the guide.  It is quite helpful, and I had spent hours trying to find this info separately before coming here.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #26 on: March 07, 2012, 10:03:18 AM »
Thanks for the guide.  It is quite helpful, and I had spent hours trying to find this info separately before coming here.

Glad to have helped. :)

This is actually a very interesting point (and slightly wrong) in light of the Level(3) vs. Comcast blow up that happened as a result of Netflix at the end of 2010:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-30686_3-20024571-266.html

Netflix uses different CDN's (Content Distribution Networks) to deliver their streaming content. Limelight and Akamai previously provided their CDN services and then Level(3) got into the CDN game with Netflix at the end of 2010. Comcast was purchasing transit from Level(3) at the time but Level(3)'s move into the CDN space radically flipped the ratio of traffic sent vs. received with Comcast. Level(3) made some outrageous demands to Comcast to provide additional capacity in a very short time frame as a result of this. When Comcast realized they were now being forced to pay for additional bandwidth to Level(3) to deliver content to their customers that was being delivered via settlement free peering agreements previously things blew up.

Level(3) accused Comcast of hating net neutrality (or something like that...) and Comcast put out the facts and negotiated a new deal with Level(3) that probably involved a much reduced cost for transit or (possibly) a settlement free peering arrangement.

The reason this is important is Netflix currently streams from 3 different content networks. Akamai, who deploys servers on different service provider networks and caches streams for local users, Limelight Networks, who runs their own content distribution network and arranges peering agreements directly with different service providers, and now Level(3), who is abusing their position as one of the largest global internet backbone providers to provide CDN services and force their existing customers to pay for their CDN content (double dipping) when, in cases like Netflix, many people were getting it free from previous peering arrangements.

The silver lining in this cloud for everyone is that Netflix is deploying their own content caching solution on service provider networks that will put the content closer to users and drive down transit costs which should (but may not) result in cheaper and better service to the end user.

Somnambulist, thank you for clarifying the topic further and correcting a viewpoint I unfairly held due to a long-standing bias against Comcast and a bit of a faulty memory further aggravated by not brushing back up on the topic and working on dated information before posting specifically about it. It illustrates the importance of not biasing your information to just one source, and why I'm working through everyone's feedback to further improve and make sound the advice posted. What I have here is a good start... nothing more. Cheers to you, and thanks! You're helping to keep me honest. :)
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #27 on: March 08, 2012, 11:21:22 PM »
I.P. Daley,

  I want to thank you for taking the time and dedication for such a thorough post regarding this area of frugal comms tech.  I have updated my post to steer viewers here for more info. 

One thing that I have been on the look out for is an  unlimited LTE plan for a mobile hotspot device that I'd be able to use as my ISP, but there does not appear to be an option in San Diego yet.  One day...

Anyways, I really appreciate it as I am not an expert on the matter of MNVOs, however, just knowing they are an option is something so many know little about.  Thanks for giving the a to z post on this matter.  Cheers!
« Last Edit: March 09, 2012, 10:40:06 AM by dahlink »

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #28 on: March 09, 2012, 11:46:36 AM »
Thanks for the kind words and the cross-link, Dahlink. I'm going to try and make a concerted effort to stay on top of this thread and keep the information current for everyone instead of just resting on my laurels and letting the info grow stale and outdated. If you (or anyone else) comes across info that you feel should be updated or added and I haven't already, let me know.

One thing that I have been on the look out for is an  unlimited LTE plan for a mobile hotspot device that I'd be able to use as my ISP, but there does not appear to be an option in San Diego yet.  One day...

I wish I had a suggestion for you on this front. After LightSquared got shot down by the FCC for disrupting GPS services, the odds of cost effective unlimited LTE kind of evaporated. I sincerely doubt the mobile operators will ever let truly unlimited data service exist as a permanent option as it makes too much money for them to meter it. Sprint has come the closest, but even they put restrictions in place and have backed down on certain offerings.

I just don't see it happening in this country, sad to say.
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #29 on: March 12, 2012, 10:55:56 PM »
I wish I had a suggestion for you on this front. After LightSquared got shot down by the FCC for disrupting GPS services, the odds of cost effective unlimited LTE kind of evaporated. I sincerely doubt the mobile operators will ever let truly unlimited data service exist as a permanent option as it makes too much money for them to meter it. Sprint has come the closest, but even they put restrictions in place and have backed down on certain offerings.

I just don't see it happening in this country, sad to say.

Unfortunately I don't think, 'unlimited data,' services will exist in this country in any form before much longer. Nearly every large ISP is looking at options for metered service right now and many have already switched to it. I'd hope this encourages more competition in the form of the small ISP again but it's really expensive to get started and the prices have been diluted so much it's hard to make money with it.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #30 on: March 13, 2012, 12:26:31 PM »
Thanks for the information!

I'm currently on a Verizon plan with my wife, brother, and mother.  We've got about 1 year left on this contract.  Is it possible to switch to PagePlus now, or are we stuck for a year?  Thanks!

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #31 on: March 13, 2012, 07:48:17 PM »
Thank you so SO MUCH for the primer.  I've been looking for a way to save on my cell phone, but had no clue what MVNOs had to offer.  I thought  paying $80 for my husband and I on Verizon was as good as it got.  If you don't mind, I would love to read your thoughts on Google Voice. I've seen ref to it here and there, but unfortunately I.still.just.don't.get.it.  Like, what exactly does it do and how can I use it to save money?  I asked a friend, and she said that it basically just routes all calls to whatever phone you happen to be at.  I know MMM has said that it's a great tool to help him save on phone costs, but I'm not sure how to apply this strategy in my own life.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #32 on: March 14, 2012, 11:08:44 AM »
I'm currently on a Verizon plan with my wife, brother, and mother.  We've got about 1 year left on this contract.  Is it possible to switch to PagePlus now, or are we stuck for a year?  Thanks!

Well, you could switch now, but you'd be looking at massive contract breaking costs as well as incidental costs. Of course, depending on the potential spent with PagePlus versus cost of the contract fee and extra cost per month, it might be worth it. If you keep a close eye out, next Verizon fee or policy change you might be able to get straight out of your contract, but they will terminate your account immediately which will make number porting difficult if that matters to you, and may not clear your phone's ESN for reactivation on any MVNOs. If you don't pay out on your contract prior to switching and the number port and explicitly ensure your ESNs get cleared in the database, it's pretty safe to say Verizon won't let you reactivate your phones with PagePlus, which will add another cost. Also look into checking to make sure you can activate the make and model of your phone on PagePlus as well, as not all devices will... most, but not all.

I can't tell you what to do, you'll have to calculate out the costs yourself versus the hassle and time spent to see if breaking contract will be worth it to you. Of course, this illustrates why you don't go into any contract at all unless you can pay for all the service for the entire time up front and be allowed to receive a pro-rated refund if you cancel, or they don't demand your first born as a blood sacrifice to escape it on your own terms. Unfortunately, Verizon's one of the worst carriers to deal with on this.

This might be of use to you, though: http://www.ucan.org/telecommunications/wireless/how_to_cancel_get_out_of_your_cell_phone_contract

Unfortunately I don't think, 'unlimited data,' services will exist in this country in any form before much longer.

QFT.
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #33 on: March 14, 2012, 11:21:31 AM »
Thank you so SO MUCH for the primer.  I've been looking for a way to save on my cell phone, but had no clue what MVNOs had to offer.  I thought  paying $80 for my husband and I on Verizon was as good as it got.  If you don't mind, I would love to read your thoughts on Google Voice. I've seen ref to it here and there, but unfortunately I.still.just.don't.get.it.  Like, what exactly does it do and how can I use it to save money?  I asked a friend, and she said that it basically just routes all calls to whatever phone you happen to be at.  I know MMM has said that it's a great tool to help him save on phone costs, but I'm not sure how to apply this strategy in my own life.

Okay, here's the 60 second crash course on Google Voice: They give you one phone number, which can ring other phone numbers when someone calls on it. This allows one number to ring your home phone, your cell phones, your work phone, etc. when someone calls. As an added bonus, you can filter and block specific callers or types of callers. They give you a unified voicemail inbox that you can tie into any cell phone service that lets you forward calls for free. You can also initiate any phone call through the GV website where Google calls your phone, then the person you're calling in the US and connects the two of you together, giving you a free long distance call. This is all free.

Of course, if you had a home phone account through an outfit like VOIPo, they'd provide enough outgoing minutes per month and most of the same call forwarding/transfer/filter options that make GV so nifty for about $7.70 a month (as of today's bulk purchase offer after fees) and provide you your home phone line with e911 at the same time. We've used GV for about three or four years now, but we're getting tired of the hoops used to utilize it at home and the cost of free with Google is continuing to compound with each new privacy policy, so we're switching from FutureNine to VOIPo after we move in a few months. All the benefits, none of the drawbacks. YMMV, of course.
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #34 on: March 14, 2012, 02:18:46 PM »
One thing to mention is E911.  While Google Voice is free and that's great, what happens if there is an emergency in your house?  That's why I'd rather pay for VOIP service.  I'm currently using VOIPMyWay and they offer unlimited calling and E911 for $95 per year. 

If I had it to do over again, I'd probably go with Ooma.  It's like $5 per month but a bit more upfront.  I was worried I wouldn't like VOIP and didn't wanted minimum upfront costs.  However, I ended up  pretty close to Ooma upfront cost when I had to buy a router to go with my Obihai. 

For plain old voice cellphone service, it's very difficult to beat Tracphone.  My wife has this service and she pays around $8 per month with all the double minute for life coupons they offer.

For cell I'm using TMobile on my Android.  I pay $.10 per minute and $2 a day if I need data.  $3 if I need fast data.  It looks like I'll be paying around $12 per month at current rates. 

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #35 on: March 14, 2012, 05:18:40 PM »
One thing to mention is E911.  While Google Voice is free and that's great, what happens if there is an emergency in your house?  That's why I'd rather pay for VOIP service.  I'm currently using VOIPMyWay and they offer unlimited calling and E911 for $95 per year. 

If I had it to do over again, I'd probably go with Ooma.  It's like $5 per month but a bit more upfront.  I was worried I wouldn't like VOIP and didn't wanted minimum upfront costs.  However, I ended up  pretty close to Ooma upfront cost when I had to buy a router to go with my Obihai. 

For plain old voice cellphone service, it's very difficult to beat Tracphone.  My wife has this service and she pays around $8 per month with all the double minute for life coupons they offer.

For cell I'm using TMobile on my Android.  I pay $.10 per minute and $2 a day if I need data.  $3 if I need fast data.  It looks like I'll be paying around $12 per month at current rates.

Thanks for the feedback! If you look a bit closer at the full guide, you'll note that I actually already addressed the topics of e911 service with VoIP providers, Ooma and its costs and limitations, Tracfone and competing MVNOs as well as T-Mobile prepaid.

It's great that you've gotten your phone services down below $30/month and still have it meet your needs, though. :)
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #36 on: March 19, 2012, 09:27:44 AM »
An interesting little article came across my feeds this morning from Ars Technica. Apparently, not only is NetZero still a thing, they're now offering no-contract, lower tier 4G data plans via Clearwire's network.
Hands-on: NetZero to offer no-contract 4G mobile hotspot service

The most interesting part is how they're offering a year's worth of free service on their 200MB/month data plan with purchase of a hotspot or USB modem. Unfortunately, it's only available for a year at most, and the option vanishes as well once you pay for a higher tier service... plus, 200MB in a month for actual web surfing isn't much these days. Still, $10 for 500MB/month and $20 for 1GB is cheaper and more flexible than Virgin Mobile if you live in or travel frequently to Clearwire coverage areas. Since it's a new offering and stuff like this can frequently change a couple months after launch, I'm holding off on integrating it into the guide just yet, but still felt it might be an interesting option to bring to everyone's attention.

It's been interesting seeing what old names from the bygone era of dial-up providers has been popping up here recently. First Earthlink, now NetZero (who appears to be offering DSL as well).
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #37 on: March 19, 2012, 10:07:24 AM »
200mb for 1 yr at 100/yr = $8/mo.  Meh.

I'd totally do the free if you buy the equipment (and even throw in ads!) if it was longer than a year, but not worth it for a year's access, for myself at least.

Might be for some people though.
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #38 on: March 19, 2012, 10:56:30 AM »
200mb for 1 yr at 100/yr = $8/mo.  Meh.

I'd totally do the free if you buy the equipment (and even throw in ads!) if it was longer than a year, but not worth it for a year's access, for myself at least.

Might be for some people though.

I agree, from that perspective it's not the greatest ROI and it's not something I'd personally do myself. Where this option really benefits is for people who only need a bit of relatively secure data access a handful of times a year while out traveling. In that usage scenario, it's still cheaper than keeping around a full fledged wireless plan going with a data package and tethering option to cover those situations when a simple $10-15 a month prepaid package covers you for 48 weeks of the year but still hits you for 10-40¢ a MB.

Unfortunately, wireless data is just plain expensive, especially when you venture into prepaid to save huge wads of money otherwise for service. This sort of deal is most definitely one that can only be justified by the financial costs. This is also why I recommend going with wired home access and hotspots or without, unfortunately, that's not a workable option for everyone. For those people, these are less terrible options.
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #39 on: March 19, 2012, 12:07:19 PM »

I agree, from that perspective it's not the greatest ROI and it's not something I'd personally do myself. Where this option really benefits is for people who only need a bit of relatively secure data access a handful of times a year while out traveling. In that usage scenario, it's still cheaper than keeping around a full fledged wireless plan going with a data package and tethering option to cover those situations when a simple $10-15 a month prepaid package covers you for 48 weeks of the year but still hits you for 10-40¢ a MB.


T-Mobile's PayAsYouGo plan is pretty sweet. If I need data when I travel, I just pay for 24 hours of data.  200MB at 4G and unlimited 2G or unlimited 2G. 

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #40 on: March 19, 2012, 08:55:20 PM »
T-Mobile's PayAsYouGo plan is pretty sweet. If I need data when I travel, I just pay for 24 hours of data.  200MB at 4G and unlimited 2G or unlimited 2G.

I agree that T-Mo's Pay By The Day can have its place in some more extreme usage situations like binge-fast, and it's obvious that you're pleased with how well it's working out in your usage case, but there's two major drawbacks (especially for data):
1) If data is needed beyond the phone, tethering is against Terms of Service;
2) For those "unlimited data" service days, $100 is only going to get you at most 33 days of 200MB/day capped service (total 6.6GB of 3G HSPA+ data) with dial-up speeds after that point.

Since I've got the time and feel it necessary to clarify as the option has been brought up, here's the bottom line and my concerns with recommending T-Mobile prepaid Pay By The Day (PBTD) for most users. T-Mo is probably one of the best PBTD options if you have something like five literal days a month where you just binge on usage, talking for hours and shoving giant wads of data everywhere (difficult to do on a cell phone without tethering) and then completely cease to use it to the point that it shouldn't even be turned on the rest of the time. Great, right?

Well, here's the math. For their $1/day unlimited text and 10¢ a minute plan, upon usage you would have to at least use before midnight that day more than one of the following to break even with cost against the competition:
-20* SMS text messages
-20 minutes of phone time (this is impossible to break even on when you're paying twice the price per minute as the competition and start with a 0 minute balance on a $1 day).

For $2/day unlimited everything with 2G (EDGE) access, the numbers become:
-40 minutes of phone time
-6.7MB* of data at dial-up speeds
-40* SMS text messages

For $3/day unlimited everything with 200MB of "4G" (3G HSPA+) data access and unlimited EDGE, that goes up to:
-60 minutes of phone time
-10MB* of data
-60* SMS text messages

*numbers based on competing prepaid GSM provider H2O Wireless's minute plan rates of 5¢ SMS, 30¢ MB. PlatinumTel is even cheaper at 2¢ SMS, 10¢ MB, but requires the cost of switching to CDMA hardware.

$25 a month is a good budget to consider as a cut-off with any pay as you go package, because if you're spending more than that a month, you might do better with the resources of a prepaid monthly plan (which should cut off at around $35-40 before you shop for traditional monthly plans). Now, what does $25 buy you with T-Mo PBTD? 14 physical days of unlimited usage with EDGE data, or 8 days if you want "4G" data access speeds within a space of three months to one year, plus a single day of text messages and that's it. Finito. Plus you get the joy of plan juggling depending on usage needs... but most people don't use their phones like that. For most people, it's a bit here and there of everything.

Now for the sake of contrast, what does $25 get with H2O Wireless if you choose the monthly plan? 1,000 minutes or SMS messages, or 80MB of data usable across 30 days. Alternatively on the minute plan, it would be 500 minutes or SMS messages and 83MB of data across 30-90 days. With PlatinumTel? 500 minutes, or 250MB of data, or 1,250 SMS text messages usable across three-to-six months. No binging to make it cost effective. You can use it daily as you need it.

So yes, T-Mo PBTD can be cost effective and useful under certain binge-fast usage scenarios or some usage scenarios that can be counted by minutes per year. However, when you can't legally tether and you're not streaming media or glued to the tiny glowing rectangle for literal hours, using up even 10MB of data in a day can be difficult at EDGE data speeds. As for their 3G 200MB access for $3 a day? It is a very competitive price for small bandwidth cap prepaid data, but tethering restrictions again kill that usefulness and defeats the purpose of needing high bandwidth/data wireless broadband when away from home unless you want to risk having them terminate your service.

Bottom line, Pay By The Day from any carrier is expensive and restrictive for anything but binge-fast usage, and T-Mo's option as a major data provider when away from home comes with too many caveats to be practical. I'm happy it works for your usage patterns, BenDarDunDat, but this is why I haven't recommended T-Mobile as a first string option for most new prepaid/MVNO users in this guide.
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #41 on: March 20, 2012, 08:12:33 AM »

$25 a month is a good budget to consider as a cut-off with any pay as you go package, because if you're spending more than that a month, you might do better with the resources of a prepaid monthly plan

Absolutely.  There is not such thing as a perfect plan.  If you send a lot of text messages, you should be in some sort of unlimited plan. If you use data every day, same thing. 

For my purposes, I bought a $100 card in October.  I still have $60 left over after making calls and a 3 days of data from when I was on vacation. That's $12 a month for my wireless needs.  That's half the cost of H2O or Virgin plan.  That's a 1/3 of what I used to pay on Sprint Sero and they wouldn't let me upgrade my phone. 

I love my new plan.  If I need data, I'll wifi at home/office/free hotspot.  If I really need it for emergency at work, I'll buy a day of data.

In contrast, my wife has a simple Nokia and Tracphone plan and she payed a whopping $7 per month for voice and a few text messages last year.  However, for me, the Android is definitely worth $5 more per month. 

Virgin and H2O have some good plans, not doubt about it.  But that's double what I'm currently paying.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #42 on: March 22, 2012, 05:20:41 PM »
Brief guide update. ACRS Wireless (a PlatinumTel reseller and where we got our Blackberries) is advertising BYOD support for PlatinumTel now at $40 which includes a $10 balance credit. Not as cheap as BYOD for Verizon/PagePlus converts, but this is still good news for the CDMA crowd coming off of Sprint. Updating the guide accordingly.
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #43 on: March 29, 2012, 01:16:42 PM »
Dear I.P. Daley

After Charter raised my internet only 15MB home internet connection from $44.99 to $47.99 a month, I decided I am paying too much for this.  So after reading your stuff a second time, I am taking a leap of faith.  I just changed over to the 3MB plan for $24.99 a month, a savings of $23.00 a month.  The clowns charged my a $1.99 changeover fee for this action.  I did ask them if I am unsatisfied, can I go back to the 15MB plan, and they said sure, for another $1.99 fee.  So I will be real curious whether I find this speed "acceptable".  I'm sure for emailing and browsing the web it will be fine.  The real test comes when I turn on my Roku and watch Hulu Plus, we'll see if Hulu streams OK at 3MB.  I'll let you know.  I already cut out my $7.99 Netflix streaming, since after watching Nip/Tuck, Weeds, Mad Men, Breaking Bad there is not much left to watch so the heck with them.

I'm thinking of dumping one of my $26.72 a month Virgin Mobile androids, leaving my wife with hers as it is the only cell phone she can actually work (point at contacts, scroll and touch her way to a call).  For my phone, probably going to get a dump PlatinumTel one per your recommendation, it is just for an emergency phone in case I break down on the road.

Thanks again I.P. and all other Mustachians for sharing their particular area of expertise, it can save us all a lot of money!

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #44 on: March 29, 2012, 01:53:14 PM »
Fantastic news, Frugalman! Glad to hear you're about to save so much money. Hulu should scale down nicely as their player supports playback resolution as low as 240/288p (<~500kbps), which uses so little bandwidth that Bakari is able to comfortably watch Hulu on a 768k DSL connection. I've never signed up for Hulu+ myself, but I would imagine all their HD and exclusive content should equally scale down as low, as it's all using the same technology.

Hopefully some day an opportunity will arise that you can comfortably get your wife's phone switched out as well to save that last major chunk. :)
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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #45 on: March 29, 2012, 04:46:05 PM »
Good news! Just ran a half hour show thru Hulu plus and it worked just fine! Checked my speedtest utility and Charter did cut me to 3.1 MB download and 0.39 MB upload. But everything is working GREAT and I am feeling pretty good about my decision to downgrade to save $23 a month. Thanks again! Regarding moving my wife to a cheaper plan - I'd have to find an offering with a cheap android, and I am concerned at the price of PTel data plan, since androids can sneakily use a lot of MBs even if not streaming audio or video. Thanks again, IP!

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #46 on: March 29, 2012, 05:10:33 PM »
Also,I just ordered a cheap phone and $10 card from PlatinumTel, so I'll be saving about $23 a month on my cell phone cost.

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Re: Communications & Tech - The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide
« Reply #47 on: March 29, 2012, 05:58:22 PM »
Wow, there's a lot here to read, and I'll get back to it, but I wanted to post a reply about the assumption that 3mbps is plenty of speed for your internet connection.  You are generally correct, assuming you are actually receiving the speed you pay for.  When I had 6mbps through my cable provider I could not watch HD netflix streams without pauses to buffer every 15 minutes.  This really ruins the mood when you're in the middle of a movie.  In practice I was receiving about 768k in download speeds because apparently I'm in a pretty wired up neighborhood. 

Once I switched to AT&T DSL 6mbps I actually received .... wait for it..... 6mbps!

At that point I could be watching a full HD stream from netflix while browsing the web and downloading whatever I wanted.   So I guess the point it, make sure you get what you are paying for.

Now back to reading this novel ;)

Funny you should says that.... I was reading the guide, finding lots of great info, and then I read the part about "only" needing 3mbps and it made me laugh!
Really, 3mbps?

I watch hulu full screen, or play an mmorpg - while simultaneously downloading media in the background - AND with my girlfriend checking email or browsing the web on her computer at the same time.
I have "up to" 768kbps DSL.
I just don't see how I could ever want more than that.

Streaming high def?  I guess maybe if you have a fancy media center set up with a set-top box or with your computer sending signals to a 52" flat screen TV. 
If you are watching on a normal computer monitor, it isn't just about being fancy or whatever, it LITERALLY doesn't make a difference.

A high quality 17" monitor has 1.3million pixels
A high def TV has 2 million pixels.
A computer monitor can not display high def.

But its hardly necessary:  A DVD only outputs 1/2 million pixels.  When was the last time you watched a DVD and thought to yourself "oh, this picture is so blurry!"

And even if the computer monitor could... in most households seating is across the room from the TV, but much closer to a computer.  That's why big TVs are popular - so you can see them from a distance.  But as the size got bigger, if resolution didn't increase, the picture would get increasingly fuzzy.  In other words, if you don't have a huge TV, you won't see the extra "def" anyway.
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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #48 on: March 29, 2012, 06:06:34 PM »
Internet Service Providers (what you do and don't need)
Others like AT&T refuse to give third party DSL providers access to dry-loop installations forcing you to have a local only land line phone turned on with them for $20+ a month before you can subscribe to DSLExtreme where you can save $15 a month on their DSL service over AT&T's for the same price, making AT&T's dry-loop DSL the only and cheapest DSL option for your area at $40+taxes and regulatory fees.

AT&T metered rate local is only $15 (they make it very hard to find, but its there)
+ Sonic.net DSL at $14.95 (no additional taxes or fees)
=$30 total

$30 is cheaper than AT&T dryloop of $40+

Bonus: slightly less of my money goes to AT&T
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Re: Communications & Tech - ISPs, VoIP, Cell
« Reply #49 on: March 29, 2012, 07:25:35 PM »
Internet Service Providers (what you do and don't need)
Others like AT&T refuse to give third party DSL providers access to dry-loop installations forcing you to have a local only land line phone turned on with them for $20+ a month before you can subscribe to DSLExtreme where you can save $15 a month on their DSL service over AT&T's for the same price, making AT&T's dry-loop DSL the only and cheapest DSL option for your area at $40+taxes and regulatory fees.

AT&T metered rate local is only $15 (they make it very hard to find, but its there)
+ Sonic.net DSL at $14.95 (no additional taxes or fees)
=$30 total

$30 is cheaper than AT&T dryloop of $40+

Bonus: slightly less of my money goes to AT&T

I'll just repost/quote myself from the other thread on this:
It requires a landline phone line - $15/mo for basic metered phone from AT&T (or $5 if you are low-income)

Good gravy. You have to love the irregularity AT&T has in pricing basic phone service from region to region. What costs you $15/month costs others around $25+ after taxes and regulatory fees in other parts of the country for the exact same service. I'd looked into doing the same thing before just completely blackballing AT&T last year, and it was going to cost us just as much per month for anything between 768kbps-3Mbps via DSL Exteme (or Sonic.net for that matter), as we were getting billed for AT&T's 3Mbps dry loop and our Future-Nine VoIP service combined, and AT&T was only going to provide measured rate local calling for that price instead of unlimited incoming and 250 minutes/month out to US/Canada, 1¢/min after (which didn't matter as we use Google Voice). Then of course, low income phone service from AT&T in this state runs nearly $10/month after taxes, too if memory serves.

I wish it were true that it's $15/month across the board for that package in all the former Baby Bell regions, but it just isn't unfortunately. Heck, until you mentioned it, I wasn't even aware that package existed that cheap in other areas. I'll be adding the suggestion to the list next day or two as I now know it is an option in some AT&T areas like the old PacBell region.

Funny you should says that.... I was reading the guide, finding lots of great info, and then I read the part about "only" needing 3mbps and it made me laugh!
Really, 3mbps?

Yeah, 3Mpbs. You can get away with less under some circumstances (such as yours), but between bandwidth data caps, uneven service quality, the disappearing options for slower packages than that and/or very minimal price differences between 3Mbps and lower with those ISPs that do offer it (Sonic.net and DSL Extreme are both literally the exact same price for 768kbps, 1.5Mbps and 3Mbps service in AT&T regions), the incredibly anemic upload speeds provided if you do actually need to send any files of substance or use a cloud data backup service regularly, providing enough bandwidth to not make OS security updates and large package downloadable software titles not take forever to download, provide enough safety margin that you can stream video, use the VoIP account, have people all use the connection at the same time without degrading service for family situations, ensure a margin of overkill safety for most user's needs so that they don't notice a significant slowdown, and provide enough growth overhead for any unexpected future needs... yeah, 3Mbps. I'd rather recommend too much as the average baseline than not enough, especially when the price difference for that extra is frequently trivial.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2012, 07:49:32 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.