If you have an iPhone, chances are good you have AT&T. In Seattle – as it is in most large metropolitan cities – AT&T is completely oversold. Data rates are laughable in downtown Seattle from 8-10 AM and 4-6 PM and are substandard even in non-peak hours. I was getting 3mbps down and 1mbps up on a good day.
Why would you pay $90/month for this shit? Even if you’re on Verizon (which has a much faster network), if you’re a 20-something antisocial person like me, you probably don’t even like talking to people on the phone. The only reason I talk on the phone is to interview prospective clients for my Seattle baseball training company, or very occasionally with my wife. Other than that, I text message, Facebook message, or email (preferred) everyone else. Asynchronous communication is way better in so many respects when you’re a sociopath.
Anyway, with a kid here and a lot of things happening in life otherwise, I needed to cut my budget down to size. I looked at my AT&T bill, and sure enough, I was out of contract, meaning I could cancel at any time without incurring an Early Termination Fee (ETF). I had always wanted to get a Wi-Fi hotspot and just route calls through Skype to my iPhone by way of Google Voice, but I never really looked into it while I was under contract. Now that I had no reason to be a lazy bastard, I decided to check out my options.
Providers of 4g LTE in Seattle
I did some research and it turns out that AT&T might develop their LTE network here, but I think they were strongly banking on the T-Mobile merger to actually go through, which it probably won’t. Unwilling to wait on them, I did some comparison shopping and found that I really liked T-Mobile’s products and supposed service.
When I went to the T-Mobile store, I saw that their newest 4G Mobile Hotspot was $125 with a mail-in rebate.
I brought my iPhone and ran a speedtest on a working unit, and I was pulling 8/4. I asked about usual speeds, and the salesperson said that theoretical speeds could reach 42mbps down, but that I could generally expect 10 during peak times and up to 20-30 in non-peak hours with perfect reception. This was more than good enough for me, so I asked about pricing. He said that the two most popular plans were a 2 GB plan for $30/month and a 5 GB plan for $40/month. When I asked about overages, he said that your rate was just cut to EDGE speeds after the limit – so something like 800kbps down 200kbps up max. No overage fees – just rate throttling.
(The T-Mobile website says its $40/month for 2 GB and $50/month for 5 GB, but I think there’s a sale going on in stores, so check there.)
Perfect. I signed up for the 2 GB plan to test, and he had me on my merry way without much fanfare.
Configuring the T-Mobile hotspot to use WPA2 was simple, and the browser-based interface had a lot of useful information that was simple to navigate.
Cost: $125 equipment fee, $30/month rate plan
How to Make VoIP Calls From Your Now-Planless iPhone
What you need:
- iPhone (preferably 3GS or later, I think)
- Google Voice
- Talkatone iPhone App
I basically followed this Lifehacker guide – though the app screenshots are wildly out of date – and was able to get it up and running without a problem. I was able to call from both my Comcast Internet connection and my T-Mobile connection without any problem.
If you don’t have Google Voice, this is a problem you should rectify even if you don’t decide to do this. Hopefully they still have some numbers in your area code.
Talkatone is a free app but has some premium features to remove ads; if the app had a single purchase price, I’d probably buy it – but it’s $19.99/year, and I don’t see the reason for subscription pricing for this type of app. The free version isn’t limited or anything, so for the time being, I’m not going to upgrade.
Cost: Assuming you own an iPhone or iPod Touch or iPad – and use the free version of Talkatone – $0.
This setup is awesome. While you’re limited by the battery life of the hotspot, this can be managed by only turning it on when there’s no WiFi in the area you happen to be in and diligently keeping it charged. Other than that limitation, you’re saving $60/month, getting much, much faster Internet speeds, getting a mobile hotspot for your other portable devices (I have an HP Touchpad that will see plenty of use with this setup, including Skype and Google Talk video chat), and unlimited phone minutes in the US/Canada with cheap rates internationally (not that I ever talk on the phone).
Here are some sample speeds I got from my hotspot on my connected PC using an Alfa Networks Wireless-G card – the hotspot was placed on the windowsill while charging:
In short: Go forth and do this. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and it’s not so technically challenging that you can’t iron out the bugs with a little help from Google. (I had no problems whatsoever; the most time-consuming portion of this was canceling my service with AT&T.)