One area that a lot of people spend way more money than they really need to is on their cell phone bill. For many of them they just don't know that there are cheaper alternatives out there, and that they can find comparable or better service for much less.
For years my wife and I were paying $35-45/month for awful, slow cell service – voice only – through AT&T. A few years ago we wised up and found a way to save hundreds on our cell phone bill by signing up for cheap pre-paid cell phone service through Virgin Mobile. We went from paying $35-45/month for one cell phone, to only having to add $20 worth of airtime to our phones every 90 days, about $7 a month since we don't talk on the cell phones a lot. While the plans and rates have changed a bit since then, my wife is still only paying $35/month for unlimited text/data and 300 minutes of voice, while i'm still paying less than $10/month for my grandfathered pre-paid plan.
How does that compare to the average cell phone bill? JD Power reports in CNN Money, that
The average annual wireless phone bill is now $1,152, up 52% from 2006..
That comes out to about $96/month for a cell phone bill. So for about $45/month we get two cell phones, one with unlimited text/data – all for much less than what the average person pays for one phone.
While I think I was getting a pretty good deal with our cell phones, what I didn't realize is that it can get even cheaper. Several providers are now offering alternatives that can be either extremely cheap or free, depending on what exactly you sign up for. So today I thought I would look at a couple of free cell phone and wireless internet alternatives that can end up giving you free cell phone service, or a free 4G wi-fi hotspot.
Free 4G Wireless Internet
I was going on vacation recently and the hotel we were going to be staying at didn't have Wi-Fi or internet access. They were in the stone ages. Because I needed to stay connected while we were gone I looked into, and bought, a 4G wireless hotspot from Virgin Mobile. I bought the hotspot on sale for about $50, and then I had to pay $35 for one month of service, capped at 2GB of 3G data.
I didn't think I had gotten too bad of a deal, since the 4G was free and my office is in a good 4G area. Then this week I saw a post on My Money Blog talking about a service that was giving out free wireless internet via a 4G hotspot, similar to the one I had just bought.
The service he was talking about was FreedomPop, a wireless internet provider that will give you 500MB of 4G wireless internet access for free every month. There are no contracts involved, and there is an overage fee of .01 cent per MB. You can buy premium data plans starting at 1GB of data for $9.99/month. When you're signing up, however, they only give you three options. They offer you the free 500MB plan, a 2GB $17.99 plan, and a 4 GB $28.99 plan. After you sign up for the free plan, however, you can upgrade to any of the plans show below.
The only real upfront costs that you could see for using FreedomPop is the upfront “deposit” that you pay for your 4G modem. They have a USB modem you can plugin to your PC or Mac that has a $49 deposit, or a “hockey puck” type wi-fi modem (like the one I have from Virgin Mobile) that they will charge you a $99 deposit for. While they do say that you get the deposit back when you return the hotspot if you cancel, their terms and conditions do seem to state that you can only get a refund of the deposit within 12 months of activation. Here are the terms.
All in all, even if you do have to pay for the “free modem”, the service does seem to have a decent value proposition. I just checked my data usage for the month that I used the Virgin 4G hotspot, and I only ended up using about 300MB of data. So it sounds like I could use this free internet deal to get decent on the go internet, especially when coupled with using the wi-fi at work and home. I've decided to sign up, and pay for the hotspot, and use the free plan to start with. I'll report back with how it goes.
UPDATE: I signed up for FreedomPop and am waiting for the hotspot in the mail. When signing up for service the customer service rep on the signup page chatted with me, and when I expressed reservations about signing up, he offered me an extra free 250MB for my first month. Might be worth a try when you sign up. Also, after signing up you can get free data by inviting and connecting with friends, or by completing offers. I've gotten an extra 20MB that way as well since a couple of my friends already use FreedomPop. If you sign up, connect with me via the contact link at the top of the page, tell me what email you're using with FreedomPop and we'll give each other some free data as well! Read my full FreedomPop review here.
Here's an unboxing video of the Wi-Fi hotspot that I just received.
Free Cell Phone Service With Solavei
I was reading an article on Engadget last week that talked about a new start-up cell phone service called Solavei that basically allows you to end up getting your cell phone service for free. What's the catch? You don't really get the service for free, unless you can get other people to sign up for the service as well.
Solavei starts out with unlimited voice, text and data for $49/month (and a possible $49 activation, not clear on that), and you get cell service on the T-Mobile network (so coverage would be similar to that you'd get with T-Mobile). It's a no-contract cell phone plan, and the price really isn't all that bad when comparing to other providers. (You can buy one of their 3 available smartphones, or bring your own compatible phone and get a SIM card for $29.)
If you do get into the social aspect of the plan, however, you can end up getting your cell service at a discount, or even make money every month. Basically it boils down to this: If you can refer 3 people to the service, what they call a “trio“, you'll get a $20 credit on your monthly bill. For every trio after that you'll get another $20 off your bill. If your referrals also refer “trios” of people, you'll get credit or that as well. There is a whole compensation scheme that is explained on the site.
I'll be the first to admit that it feels like one of those multi-level marketing schemes, and their marketing materials feel that way a bit too – so take that for what you will.
On the other hand, on the surface the plan really does seem to be a competitive rate plan. Even if you never refer anyone (which I probably wouldn't) you don't really have much to lose from what I can see. By way of comparison, you can get unlimited everything through Virgin Mobile fro $55/month.
So with Solavei you get no contracts and an affordable plan with the chance to get it for free or to make money. Definitely worth a look.
Have you heard of any similar services that can give you free or extremely cheap wireless internet or cell service? Have you used either of these? Tell us your experience!