No More Phone Bills

There’s another small leak in the family budget besides one recently plugged with a pair of hair clippers. At just $10 per month my monthly cellphone bill is already negligible. I know some who spend in one month what I pay for a whole year of service. Is there really a way to improve on that without losing connectivity we all take for granted?

I discovered prepaid mobile services years ago while researching ways to slash the monthly phone bill. So called mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) pay the big dogs (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint) to access their networks at wholesale prices and then repackage services into their own prepaid plans. MVNOs promise low prices without contracts. In addition, most MVNOs don’t charge miscellaneous fees and taxes usually found on a monthly bill. And since MVNOs run on the same network their voice and data service is as good as that of a full-service provider. MVNO is a generic in the world of brands.

After trying a couple of MVNOs I stuck with Airvoice Wireless the longest. They use AT&T’s network so coverage is great.

It’s cheap too. $10 per month gets you 250 voice minutes or 500 text messages. You can also turn on data as needed for things like navigation, searches, email and light browsing. Best part is that any unused balance rolls over at the end of each month. Towards the end of first year I found myself with a fifty dollar balance to use as I pleased. Granted I don’t spend hours on the phone or browse extensively on my phone. Most calls are one or two minutes and data is off till I need it. Stream YouTube and you’ll burn through that $10 monthly allotment in minutes.   

So if it’s cheap and it works why try to fix it? Because it’s a fun challenge! And because every dollar is worth much more once the regular paycheck stops. Ten dollars will take on a new meaning as we transition out of the 9-5.   

FreedomPop is the only company I know that promises 100% free mobile voice and data services without any strings attached. They do offer fancier paid services as well but I was interested in trying out their free options. If I wanted to pay I’d stick with Airvoice Wireless.  

Buyer beware: FreedomPop has had its share of bad publicity. They make you jump through hoops. Their service is not for everyone.

With that said, FreedomPop works for me. It was a steep learning curve to figure out how to use their service without getting charged anything per month as advertised. Voice calling is worse compared to AT&T, Verizon or Sprint. If you depend on great call quality and reliability you can stop reading right now.

But if you find yourself mostly using data and text and if you want to cut another monthly bill to zero and if you’re willing to jump through a couple of one-time setup hoops then I think you may want to check out FreedomPop. 

You can try FreedomPop and cancel if you don’t like it. I didn’t cancel my Airvoice service until I was sure that FreedomPop will work for me in the long run.

FreedomPop has been around since 2011. As one of their first customers I bought a hotspot and a usb dongle to have free internet service while travelling. Recently I switched to their newest LTE hotspot and it works great as long as 1GB per month that comes with the free plan is enough.

In 2016 FreedomPop launched a Global SIM service offering free voice and data in the US and other countries worldwide. I ordered a SIM card to try. It worked but the call quality was lacking so I ended up swapping the Airvoice Wireless SIM card back in. I kept the Global SIM card for when we travel internationally since it’s better than nothing. Since there are no monthly charges the SIM card can just sit in a drawer until I need it.

In 2017 FreedomPop announced a new LTE SIM phone service that runs on AT&T network. Since Airvoice Wireless runs on the same network I decided to order FreedomPop’s LTE SIM card to compare.

Here is what’s included in the basic free service:

FreedomPop’s 4G LTE coverage looks impressive:

It’s easy to increase the data limit to 1GB per month by adding FreedomPop friends and sharing data. Below is my phone’s screenshot that shows the balance on my free plan. I can increase the data allotment further by “sharing” from multiple accounts I have with FreedomPop. This takes just a couple of seconds for each 100MB shared. Notice how it lists AT&T as the service provider, not FreedomPop.

I like FreedomPop’s LTE service more than the free Global SIM plan I was on before. Voice quality is better and calls/data are not routed through England. That used to cause a bunch of problems (weird dialing prefixes, British versions of websites loading instead of US, latency issues etc).

It’s not perfect. The call quality is still not as good as Airvoice Wireless even though it runs on the same AT&T network. However data is fast and reliable. Here is a test showing download and upload speeds. Not bad especially considering I pay nothing!

My workaround is to use Google Voice over LTE data for voice calls. Calls sound much better than dialing through the FreedomPop app. I rarely come close to using up the data allotment for calling and browsing. Although one time I forgot to turn on my wifi and went through a month worth of data in under 20 minutes… oops! No biggie though – I swapped the Global SIM back in while waiting for the next LTE cycle.

It’s important to note why FreedomPop’s free plan works for me.

  • I don’t use a lot of mobile minutes or data.
  • I use Google Voice as my primary number. Google Voice handles voice calls, voicemail and text, including group and MMS.
  • I bought a VOIP box which allows me to make and receive crystal clear calls from home on a regular old school cordless phone. It integrates seamlessly with Google Voice without any recurring fees. I do a lot of work conference calls from home and this set up has been working out extremely well.

With Google Voice, when someone calls me – my cell, my home and my work phones all ring at once so I can choose which one I want to answer. I end up using my cell phone only when I’m away from home or work or wifi, which is almost never! I get crystal clear calls most of the time without using any mobile minutes or data.  

So with that, I’m very happy with FreedomPop. My G Flex 2 is still a rock star of a phone and I see absolutely no reason to upgrade. Apple can keep their $1,000 phone ha!

Wouldn’t you rather see this every month?

My wife was also on the same $10 Airvoice plan. Last month she dropped her phone and cracked the screen. While looking for a new phone I noticed a promo: 1 year of free unlimited voice/text/data service from Sprint (expired now). 

We bought a Moto E4 phone – with a hard case this time – and signed up for the Sprint promo. The service has been great so far. And it’s almost free. You still have to pay roughly $3 in taxes per month. Not a bad deal considering you get unlimited everything. Sprint even lets you use your phone as a mobile hotspot.  

After Sprint’s promotion runs out we’ll set up my wife with FreedomPop and Google Voice. Can’t argue with f-r-e-e.

As we prepare to transition out of the 9-5 world it’s even more important to find creative ways to reduce expenses. When your budget is already lean it can be tricky to do so without negatively impacting the quality of life. So far, switching to DIY haircuts and free mobile plans proved to be nothing but positive. It’s business as usual minus a couple of recurring monthly bills.