Author Topic: Made the Prepaid Cell Switch - WP8/Ptel/Skype/Google voice  (Read 4222 times)

msilenus

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Made the Prepaid Cell Switch - WP8/Ptel/Skype/Google voice
« on: June 29, 2013, 07:57:35 PM »
I've got my monthly smart phone expenses down to about the $20 range.  It was a little difficult because I really wanted to be using Windows Phone 8*, which is still a bit of a niche platform, and doesn't really have as much going for it in the way of community support as some others, though the Superguide here was a great starting point (thanks for that, I.P. Daley!)  Anyway, I'm writing up all the particulars for posterity.  Here's how I did it:

  • Phone - Nokia Lumia 810, purchased used for $250.  This is the only WP8 phone I could find that definitely works on PTel's slice of T-Mobile's network.  It's not being sold new anymore, so I needed to turn to the secondary market.
  • Phone configuration - go into settings and change: cellular -> Don't use cellular for limited wifi connectivity.  Backup -> Photos -> Set both photos and videos to best quality (requires WiFi).  Speech -> Uncheck "Enable Speech Recognition Service."  (I think that forces speech to happen locally.)  Wifi -> Keep on when screen times out.
  • Skype - Get a year-long subscription to unlimited nationwide calling, and a phone number through Skype.  *In that order!*  You get a 50% discount on the phone number if you get the subscription first.  It's big up-front cost, but it gets you unlimited voice nationwide for ~$5/mo.
  • Google Voice - Set it up to forward to the Skype number, and transfer your existing cellular number there.  (Costs $20.)  You can't port cell numbers to Skype, but with Google Voice, you don't need to.  This also will let you experiment with other MVNOs going forward, without worrying about losing your number if they collapse.
  • Behaviors - Never use the "people" app off WiFi, if it grabs images -even preview images- it can get pricey fast.  Be careful about what apps are used off WiFi.  Try to find apps that aren't ad-supported.  Avoid using data off WiFi, in general.  The Nokia Here+ GPS apps seem pretty good about keeping data down if you've downloaded the maps locally.  Minimize calls 4G, and keep it short when necessary.

I should be up-front and say that Skype has some quirks that need accommodating if you're going to go this route.  (And I think they're the only VOIP-with-number game on the platform right now.)  The worst is that it seems like Skype can have issues choosing which network to reach you on when you're fading in and out of cellular or wifi range.  If it picks wrong, then you'll be unable to connect when you pick up, and the app will seem to hang while loading.  My office has terrible cellular service, so I turn cellular off when I get to work.  That has helped a lot, but when it happens otherwise, I just have to call back.  Also, it couldn't handle my contact list phone numbers, so I needed to re-enter a lot of them.  Having numbers of the form 1-555-555-5555 confuses it, I think because it's expecting a '+' in front of the 1.  Really irritating.

Otherwise, it's pretty nice.  The phone rings normally, and generally works like a phone.  I can use mapping when I need it without worrying about breaking the bank, and I'm not missing profligate mobile web browsing and data-heavy app usage as much as I thought I might.  And I cut my cellular bill deep enough to make it worthwhile to suck up an early termination fee with my old provider.  Here's how I think the costs break down:

  • $10/mo - Handset budget allowance.
  • $5/mo - Skype number + unlimited plan amortized over a year.
  • $5/mo - Data usage.  About $2 of this is what I'd pay if I were only letting the phone check e-mail on 4G.  The rest is an allowance for having some light data usage beyond that.

Obviously, this only really works if your inelastic mobile data/voice needs are modest.  Mine were at about 300 minutes/mo for voice and 150MB/mo for data, and I had no trouble slimming down to what is apparently about 50 MB/mo covering both.

* Disclosure: I work for Microsoft.  Not in Skype or WP, I just really like WP.  This is a purely personal post, but it's company policy that I identify myself as an employee when posting about company products online.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2013, 07:59:16 PM by msilenus »

Daley

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Re: Made the Prepaid Cell Switch - WP8/Ptel/Skype/Google voice
« Reply #1 on: June 30, 2013, 06:32:07 AM »
Msilenus? I have to admit, you've got my respect... that setup took real dedication to pull off, and you've got a great deal of patience for tolerating your employer's products. I'm glad the guide was of help for you, and $20 a month for what you've gotten (even if it involves vendor lock-in) isn't too shabby.

It's not a setup I'd necessarily recommend for many people... but like I said, serious respect. Well done. :)

msilenus

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Re: Made the Prepaid Cell Switch - WP8/Ptel/Skype/Google voice
« Reply #2 on: June 30, 2013, 11:24:02 AM »
Thanks!

I don't think I'm terribly locked in to Skype.  We're only talking about a ~$60 contract, which decays by $5 every month, renewing yearly.  If I want to cancel halfway through a cycle like that, I'll have a choice of leaving about $30 on the table, or sticking it out for six months.  It's hard not to compare those options with a typical cell phone contract at a major carrier, but they aren't even frightening on their own terms.

Daley

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Re: Made the Prepaid Cell Switch - WP8/Ptel/Skype/Google voice
« Reply #3 on: June 30, 2013, 11:31:33 AM »
Well, so long as MS continues to hinder the development of a proper VoIP stack for WP8, you are technically locked into Skype if you want to use any sort of data-based telephony. That's more what I meant.

msilenus

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Re: Made the Prepaid Cell Switch - WP8/Ptel/Skype/Google voice
« Reply #4 on: June 30, 2013, 12:17:03 PM »
I'm not sure what you're talking about.  It looks to me like anyone can write a VOIP app that works like Skype's:
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windowsphone/develop/jj206983(v=vs.105).aspx

And, in fact, there exist other "data-based telephony" experiences in the app store:
http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/viber/3d051f9b-9e03-456f-b647-bea34fe7031c
http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/cheap-call/94ce3ab9-f468-e011-81d2-78e7d1fa76f8
http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/spare-phone/9508dd56-e881-420f-9185-96ccba768463

Spare Phone in particular is based on Google Voice, and looks like a strong competitor to Skype.  I think I'm going to go give it a try.

Daley

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Re: Made the Prepaid Cell Switch - WP8/Ptel/Skype/Google voice
« Reply #5 on: June 30, 2013, 06:12:41 PM »
Aah! I don't keep up that closely with any of Microsoft's stuff, let alone their phone stuff. Last I'd understood, there still hadn't been any VoIP APIs released for the WP8 platform (which I think is forgivable given the article you linked appears to be just shy of a month old).

Good to hear they're finally adding the framework to support enterprise functionality, even if they refuse to provide anything more than the API to let others hook proper SIP phone software into. I know that's been a long standing beef with the platform.

Hopefully, someone will develop a proper service agnostic SIP client for release sooner than later. That'll really open your options up.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2013, 06:15:54 PM by I.P. Daley »

msilenus

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Re: Made the Prepaid Cell Switch - WP8/Ptel/Skype/Google voice
« Reply #6 on: July 01, 2013, 09:18:22 PM »
I'm pretty sure WP8 shipped with the VOIP features as described in that link.  Unveiling it after launch would be very odd given that 8.0 bits are listed as supported in the API specs, and if that were the case, I would expect to be able to find the launch announcement with a quick googling.

If you don't keep up on WP stuff, I suspect there was just a misunderstanding there.  It is true that there's no generic SIP client for WP8, and you might have just been conflating that with no VOIP support since SIP seems fairly important to you.

- -

But I'm mostly posting to say that Spare Phone isn't set up for accepting inbound calls.  The author says he's working on it.  I'm keeping it anyway for outbound calling.  It integrates better with my contact list than Skype, and gets my Google Voice number in caller ID, which was another annoyance.  It also eliminates the need for a Skype outbound subscription.

So for now, it's Skype for inbound, and Spare Phone for outbound.  I think that if that were a permanent solution, then one could get a 1-month outbound subscription just for the 12-month number discount, and shave a dollar or two off.  I'm not going to bother. I think that it makes more sense to just let the monthly voice costs stay roughly unchanged, but without the one-year commitment.  Whenever Spare Phone starts ringing, it will be down to $5/month for data, which is pretty close to the lowest possible amount on PTel given their expiration policies.

Daley

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Re: Made the Prepaid Cell Switch - WP8/Ptel/Skype/Google voice
« Reply #7 on: July 02, 2013, 05:45:29 AM »
If you don't keep up on WP stuff, I suspect there was just a misunderstanding there.

That's entirely possible, my apologies for any potential misunderstanding. I'm a hard-line open standards kind of guy and don't like proprietary lock-in with services, thus the preferences for open SIP softphones and providers in kind.

Whenever Spare Phone starts ringing, it will be down to $5/month for data, which is pretty close to the lowest possible amount on PTel given their expiration policies.

Excellent!