Will Hybrid Phone Service Save You Money?
There's a new breed of mobile phone that routes your calls, texts and data usage over free wifi connections, and uses your expensive cellular minutes and megabytes only when necessary. Check out these three hybrid mobile phone service providers, and see if switching will save you money on your mobile phone bill...
What is Hybrid Mobile Phone Service?
If you've got a reliable wifi signal at home, a hybrid mobile phone could save you a bundle by minimizing the use of cellular networks (which charge by the minute or megabyte) and maximizing the use of free wifi signals. Whenever possible, your calls, text and data are handled by wifi. If there's no wifi signal available, the phone automatically switches over to a cellular network.
Let's take a look at Republic Wireless, FreedomPop and TextNow Wireless, three providers of hybrid mobile phone service, to see what they offer and how they differ.
I wrote about Republic Wireless a year ago, and how they are expanding their phone and plan offerings. The Motorola Moto X, Moto G, and Moto E phones are customized with Republic’s proprietary circuitry to seamlessly switch between WiFi and Sprint cellular service, even during calls. Prices range from $99 to $399.
Republic Wireless service plans include a $5/month plan for unlimited talk, text, and data only over WiFi; the $10/month for unlimited talk & text over WiFi + Cell, and unlimited data over WiFi; and a $40/month plan with unlimited talk, text & data over WiFi + 4G. The $5 plan sounds great, but requires that you're within wifi range if you want to use the phone.
FreedomPop popped up in 2011 with the mission to provide free mobile voice, text, and data services. Its plan for doing so is one of the more bizarre schemes I’ve seen, but it appears to work.
First, FreedomPop bought a bunch of used smartphones. Then the company modified the phones’ ROM to route all calls over 3G or 4G data networks, essentially converting them into VoIP devices. Then Freedompop bought huge blocks of data on Sprint’s Wimax network at a very low cost per gigabyte. So now FreedomPop can offer a relatively cheap smartphone with a block of free minutes, messages and data.
Phone currently available from FreedomPop are the HTC EVO 4G ($99), LG Viper 4G ($119), Samsung Victory 4G ($119), Samsung Galaxy S3 ($199), Samsung Galaxy S4 ($329), and the iPhone 5 ($399). You get 200 free anytime minutes, 500 free text messages, and 500 megabytes of free data per month.
Of course, those free allowances go pretty fast. If you need more minutes, texts, and/or megabytes you’ll have to pay for them. Remember, you’re buying data allowances; it doesn’t matter how you use your bytes. Premium plans range from $11/month for unlimited voice and text with 500 MB of data, to $20/month for unlimited voice, text and data. The company is also selling home WiFi access points and mobile hotspot gear.
There’s a distinctly sketchy feeling about the company’s complex freemium business model, product offerings, service plans, and add-ons. One example is the "Free Premium Services" that they try to upsell when you're buying service. If you don't read the fine print, you won't notice that it's only free for one month, and then $10 extra per month. And without Premium Services, you'll have to pay $2.50/month for voicemail. Yet people are buying; and rumor has it that Sprint is interested in buying FreedomPop.
Textnow Wireless is a real innovator. It was the first company to roll out an all-WiFi mobile phone, and the first to raise seed funding from venture capitalists, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber’s manager. (Total: $1 million.) Originally a free SMS message service, Textnow has branched out into hybrid WiFi/cellular full voice, text, and data services.
Like Republic Wireless, Textnow phones are designed to use WiFi when it’s available. When a user roams outside of WiFi range the phone seamlessly switches over to Sprint’s 3G or 4G network. A variety of phones are available at prices ranging from $29 to $199, or you can bring your own Sprint phone.
Alternatively, the Textnow app turns any WiFi-enabled device into a phone, and it’s available in iOS or Android versions. There is also a free Web calling and texting service accessible via any Web browser, much like Google Voice.
TextNow has borrowed the Starbucks lingo for their service plan nomenclature. The "TALL" plan that uses Sprint starts at $19 per month. That includes 500 MB of data, 750 voice minutes that roll over to the following month if unused, unlimited texting, and unlimited minutes on incoming calls. With the $27/month "GRANDE" plan you get 1 GB of data and 1,250 minutes, and (wait for it…) the $40 /month "VENTI" plan provides 2 GB and 2,000 minutes, plus the unlimited texting and incoming calls. (Regardless of the plan selected, you'll still pay full price for your Double-Shot Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Extra-Hot Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Gingerbread Frappuccino.)
Obviously, these hybrid wifi/cellular phone plans will work best for those who have access to wifi most of the time. If you've got a reliable wifi signal at home, you'll only need to burn your plan's minutes or megabytes when you're out and about, and not within range of free public wifi.
If you thought the pricing plans of major cellular carriers were getting too complicated, the hybrid scene may just drive you crazy. But innovation is always messy, and for some, one or more of these offerings may be just the ticket.
Have you tried (or would you consider) a hybrid phone service? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 2 Dec 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Will Hybrid Phone Service Save You Money? (Posted: 2 Dec 2014)
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