How best to manage calling rates on a cell phone?
April 3, 2012 5:12 PM   Subscribe

I have this budding (temporarily) long distance relationship where we put a lot of burden on phone calls (and IM and e-mail). Due to numerous factors I will give detail about in the extended, I am looking for cheap short term alternatives to cut down on costs for long distance and would appreciate some advice.

Until Summer-Fall of 2012, this will be a long distance relationship. We have been running hot and heavy on phone, IM and e-mail. IM and e-mail are free, but phone is not.

I have unlimited domestic US minutes on Vonage, which is awesome and works fine, but I'm travelling a lot and my cell phone is not on an unlimited calling plan. I'm loathe to change it because last time I tried, T-Mobile tried to get me to agree to another 2 year contract, which I want to avoid so I can switch carriers in August without paying the ETF.

So, I'm kind of behind the times with respect to phone rates, calling methods and different technologies. Reading some older AskMe questions it sounds like maybe Skype would be cheap (at 2.3 cents per minute). I have an iPad 2 that would work, right (assuming WiFi signal)? I'm assuming the Skype app uses the built-in microphone and speakers on the iPad.

Also Vonage has a feature called Extensions which they're pushing for international calls, but it looks like you can also use it to leverage your domestic calling terms? I've installed the Android app on my old Android phone and tested it and it seems to work but I fear that it's not avoiding billing my mobile minutes. I'll check my billing statements on T-Mobile and Vonage to make sure, but any advance information would be helpful about where the airtime charges go when using the Android app.

And then there's calling cards, I guess, but it seems like the cell phone would still use minutes if used at the wrong hours even with calling cards.

Does anyone have experience with this constellation of technologies and can give some advice about what logistics to consider?

Thanks as always in advance.
posted by kalessin to Technology (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Skype? If you both have it installed on your computers, it's free.
posted by thylacinthine at 5:17 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a reason you can't just do skype-to-skype? For voice, it works surprisingly well over even very low bandwidth connections.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:17 PM on April 3, 2012


Thirding Skype.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:18 PM on April 3, 2012


Well, one free option is the "call phone from Google" set-up. Others will have more options, but this works well for me!

Get a headset. One for USB and/or the av port. It helps everything.
posted by barnone at 5:20 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Google Chat lets you call real phones.

http://www.google.com/chat/voice/
posted by advicepig at 5:20 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well everyone else got the Skype bit so I'll add, can you take your Vonage box with you on your travels? Anywhere you can plug it into the internet you'd have your normal phone number.
posted by cabingirl at 5:22 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If T-Mobile is your carrier and your handset is compatible, have a look at Unlicensed Mobile Access which lets you make and receive regular phone calls over a WiFi network. T-Mobile is currently the only U.S. carrier that supports this, and calls made with their WiFi calling don't subtract minutes from your plan--assuming your plan supports it--making your calls effectively free.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:24 PM on April 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


my long distance boyfriend and I talk almost exclusively via FaceTime on our iPhones/iPad. Skype is the obvious non-apple alternative.

does your phone company allow you to make special numbers unlimited? I know for awhile they seemed to be doing that... I know AT&T has unlimited mobile to mobile as an option. the way that I ultimately solved our phone usage (pre-FaceTime use) was to switch to the same phone company so all the calls/texts/etc were free.
posted by itsacover at 6:26 PM on April 3, 2012


1 got a google voice acct and installed Groove IP on my Android. Using those 2 , I'm able to make calls from my android over my wifi network and have saved a ton of money. The quality of the calls has been great except for a few hours one day when my ping time and packet loss % had some issues.+
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:24 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW, props to burhanistan for suggesting the Google Voice/Groove IP solution when I asked a similar question a couple weeks back. I've already saved close to 1000 minutes.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:30 PM on April 3, 2012


If T-Mobile is your carrier and your handset is compatible, have a look at Unlicensed Mobile Access which lets you make and receive regular phone calls over a WiFi network. T-Mobile is currently the only U.S. carrier that supports this, and calls made with their WiFi calling don't subtract minutes from your plan--assuming your plan supports it--making your calls effectively free.

T-Mobile WiFi calling is great when I don't get service in my basement, but it (unfortunately) does count toward your plan.
posted by kylej at 7:56 PM on April 3, 2012


On PCs (or Mac) you can set a private video room on tinychat. Free. No software, no account needed. Voice only is supported. Hit or miss with tablet or phone browsers but it might work with the ones you have.
posted by caclwmr4 at 8:47 PM on April 3, 2012


T-Mobile WiFi calling is great when I don't get service in my basement, but it (unfortunately) does count toward your plan.

From T-Mobile's site:

Minutes used while connected to the Wi-Fi network count against available rate plan minutes unless the Free Wi-Fi calling feature is added to the rate plan. With the Free Wi-FI Calling feature, voice minutes are no longer decremented on calls over Wi-Fi.

I have a grandfathered plan for which Free WiFi Calling isn't an option, so I don't know if there's any catch here, but it would appear that calls within the U.S. do not subtract minutes.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:34 PM on April 3, 2012


I have been using Skype almost exclusively to talk with my family and previously long-distance husband since I've been living abroad. We're all usually somewhere where Skype is available, though, and we don't talk every day and don't have much in terms of spur-of-the-moment calls.

It works very well for us and I really enjoy being able to see faces as opposed to just talking over the phone.
posted by that girl at 5:13 AM on April 4, 2012


My only reservation about Skype-to-Skype connecting with my LDR partner is that I'm not sure if my partner is ready for video calling, though I'm not afraid to ask, particularly. I just might get a "no".

Thank you all for your advice. I'll mark best answers when I can test some of the options.

Also I have great hopes for the Vonage Extensions app on my Android phone. It seems to indicate that I CAN use it for what I want to use it for without running up my charges on the phone, so I guess we'll see about that. More info as I have it.
posted by kalessin at 5:16 AM on April 4, 2012


You can also make voice-only calls on Skype and Google Chat. Doesn't have to be video.
posted by JanetLand at 5:20 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


If the Google Chat voice plugin does not work on your computer for whatever reason, try Google Voice. GV will route the call through your usual phone (landline or cell) and call your SO's regular phone, too.
posted by skbw at 5:30 AM on April 4, 2012


Yeah, I hate video calls too. During the time Mr Thylacinthine was away from home for work (about nine months) we used Skype voice every night. The quality wasn't always perfect, but it was a godsend.
posted by thylacinthine at 3:04 PM on April 4, 2012


Has anyone mentioned Skype? (HA!) Also as mentioned - you can talk voice only and type old skool style.
posted by deborah at 11:12 PM on April 4, 2012


So to close this up, I should note that the cheapest solution for me turned out to buy the Unlimited Domestic plan upgrade for Vonage (which does not require a contract extension). The gotcha is that it's not easy to use Vonage Extensions with a 3G phone on 3G, but you can use it with some open wireless networks (the ones that don't block the port). As an example, the open WiFi at PAX did block it, but the WiFi at the hotel did not.

And to answer my niggling and unexpressed question, Vonage Extensions does work for domestic calls even if Vonage doesn't make that clear at all in their documentation.

We will probably supplement with Skype, though it turns out her computer isn't really up to the task - so we'll see about that.

Also it turns out that it'll be easiest for me to go bi-coastal (every couple of weeks), until I can move permanently to her area which will ease the pressure from LDR stuff I think as well.

Oh, and what do I need all this connection time for? I'm reading a few books aloud to her over the phone.
posted by kalessin at 12:35 PM on April 16, 2012


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