How to not pay for mobile phone service

By Buster Bytes

Tech Column

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Illustration by Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune 2011

For those enrolled in college, money can get tight. Tuition is up to $112 per hour for the upcoming fall semester, and books can cost over $500 in a single semester as well.

Rent and gas prices aren’t showing any signs of dropping, either. Combine these mounting costs with a course schedule that leaves little time for a job and you have a recipe for ramen dinners.

Students can get tired of ramen pretty fast, so many find ways to cut costs. Taking the bus, sharing or buying used textbooks and shopping at thrift stores are just a few ways they use to save money.

When it comes time to tighten belts, though, few students are eager to give up their iPhones and Androids. And with mobile phones having almost completely replacing landlines as students’ main phone lines, it’s often not practical to do without.

The method outlined here can allow students to keep their smart phone, but drop the bill. Completely. Buster, for one, hasn’t paid a mobile phone bill since July of 2011.

This method is not without its drawbacks, though. You will not be able to call or text anyone while driving, grocery shopping or anywhere else that you don’t have access to a Wi-Fi connection.

And keeping in mind that you get what you pay for, it should be no surprise that phone calls made using this method leave something to be desired. The connection can be spotty, choppy or echoey.

Clearly this is not a good substitute for someone who spends hours a day chatting on the phone with friends or who likes talking while driving around town. Also, it will not get you out of your current contract.

However, if you’re the type of person who spends more time playing “Draw Something” or “Angry Birds” and text more than you talk, this may be just the thing for you.

If you answer “yes” to the following three questions, you may be able to save $70 - $100 a month, which you will of course spend on more pens and notebooks for class, right?

1. Do you have access to Wi-Fi service at home and work? (You do at Parkland.)

2. Can you last the twenty-minute drive in between these places without texting or downloading?

3. Do you like saving money?

If you answered three yeses, then pay attention.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. A smartphone, which is activated and programmed. This definitely works on Android devices, but has not been tested on iPhones. If you don’t have one you can get one for about $120 at Wal-Mart.

2. A Google Voice account. This is free, and you can sign up at Your will need to use your current telephone number or a landline number to verify your new account, but when you are done, you will have a new phone number.

Yes, it can be a little annoying to have to tell everyone your new phone number, but is it more annoying than paying a phone bill?

3. A voice-over-IP (VOIP) application on your phone. If you are using an Android device, you will want to use an app called grooveIP. It will ask you to log in using your Google Voice information, and then you’re all set.

iPhone has some VOIP applications as well. Apps such as Talkatone and iCall are definitely worth looking into.

For either type of device, if you don’t mind paying a little something, like around $4 or $5 a month, Skype is a great app to use.

Skype allows unlimited free calls over Wi-Fi to other Skype users and very cheap rates to all other phone numbers.

If your phone has a front facing camera, you can even use Skype for video calls with other Skype users for free.

Using only Wi-Fi is less inconvenient than you might think, too. As you move around town, you’ll be surprised to find how many Wi-Fi hotspots you can access. This makes it more convenient to check your texts and email while you’re out to eat at a restaurant or studying in a café.

The best part of all of this is that it’s completely free to try. You can test it out without cancelling your current mobile plan. You can even use it in conjunction with a cell phone plan to help reduce your usage of minutes.

For those who hold onto their mobile carriers, services such as Google Talk and Skype can utilize their 3G and 4G signals to make calls which don’t use up your plan’s minutes.

This can really come in handy at the end of the month when available minutes get low. It can also help prevent those costly overages.

All in all it’s a great way to save money for those of us that love our phones, but not the bills. And if anyone tries this out on an iPhone and gets it working, Buster would love to hear about it. Just email him at



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