Feb 19 AT 4:28 PM Brian Stringfellow 13 Comments

Unlimited voice, text and data for $30 per month?

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad would be available with 3G connectivity for $30 per month for data only, the question was raised as to whether smartphones, especially Android phones, could also be used without a voice plan.

As it turns out, data-only plans are available on all four top U.S. carriers! Some are cheaper than others, but Sprint and AT&T have $30/mo data-only plans. For those who mainly rely on data connectivity with their smartphone, it can mean big savings while a Voice Over IP (VOIP) app can pick up the slack for making and receiving calls.

By leveraging Google Voice free SMS (text messaging) and Gizmo5′s VOIP technology, Android and Blackberry owners may have a very tempting offer right at their feet. For example, those who are looking for a capable device for their kids, but trying not to break the bank, may now have the perfect solution; a fun device with quality apps, unlimited texting and unlimited inbound/outbound calling.

With AT&T now allowing Skype to operate over 3G, iPhone owners can do the same by purchasing Skypeout minutes for their VOIP apps. Simply purchase a used or unsubsidized smartphone and call the carrier requesting service with data only.

VOIP apps are easy to come by, but finding one that works seamlessly with a single phone number, caller ID in both directions and with acceptable voice quality seems to be more difficult. After AT&T’s recent Skype-over-3G announcement, Verizon matched them to allow select Android and Blackberry devices to do the same. All that’s left is a follow-up announcement from Google regarding a G-VOIP app or Google Voice update to allow free VOIP calls, (trumping Skype’s paid Skypeout service), seamless inbound/outbound calling with caller ID and other advanced features. Surely, this solution will meld the efforts of the recently acquired Gizmo5 with Google Voice.

A brief history of each… in mid-2007, Google acquired GrandCentral, a feature-rich call forwarding service. Features were changed/added and it was re-branded Google Voice (GV). While it is not a true Voice Over IP solution, many assume it is. Calls placed and received using GV use a standard cellular telephone network, but are forwarded to/from Level3′s phone switches where GV’s rich calling features are implemented. GV is a valuable offering and does provide cost savings when coupled with certain cell plans*, but is still dependent upon the carriers voice network and an associated voice plan.

In late 2009, Google acquired Gizmo5, a San Diego-based VOIP startup that was once eyed by Skype. With a Gizmo5 account and a VOIP app such as Sipdroid (for Android), VOIP calls can be made and received outside of the carriers voice network using one’s Google Voice number. While Sipdroid is open sourced and works well, it may be difficult for the average user to configure and unfortunately, Google is not allowing new Gizmo5 signups so we have to wait for integration to occur.

A welcome solution will involve the VOIPizing of Google Voice, allowing users to bypass voice plans altogether if they wish, using a polished and seamless interface. As this transition to usable VOIP occurs, we should see per-minute and unlimited voice plans drop in price. In order to offset this, it would be reasonable to expect more customers will upgrade to smartphones with associated data plans.

* Verizon offers Friends and Family (F&F) plans that essentially allow unlimited outbound calling and inbound as well for those who wish to forgo inbound caller ID. By making the GV access number (916.538.3466) one of your F&F numbers, calls to and from this number will not count against the calling plan. Additionally, T-Mobile customers who still have ‘MyFaves’ can do the same, but these plans have been discontinued.

Brian has an unhealthy fascination with high tech gadgets working in the information assurance business in San Diego. Outside of work, he is often found staring into the back side of a big camera at his kids' sporting events or perched at a keyboard researching the latest developments in information technology/security and consumer electronics, but has been known to beat on drums and ride a snowboard.

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  • http://Website lordhong

    Just to remind you, GV access number is not only 1 number, there are multiple GV access numbers, and they WILL change from time to time. Also carriers, such as AT&T, start to block/deny GV access numbers as Friends & Family/MyFavs, so watch out.

    • http://Website Brian Stringfellow

      lordhong, thanks for the heads up. Since I started using GV last summer, this is the only access number I’ve seen. I’ve done some searching to see if others are assigned different numbers, but never found any.

      If you know of any alternate numbers or if you hear of Verizon or T-mobile blocking access to them, I’d be very interested in hearing about it.

      In my opinion, GV is resulting in a net gain for carriers rather than costing them.

  • http://www.youtube.com/EmoGamer Christopher Chavez

    Sooooo… Does T-Mobile USA have data only plans???

    I know they USED TO with the Sidekick plan but that was discontinued once Android plans came out.

    I know there was a petition going around because of some deaf T-Mobile users not needing a voiceplan but what happened there???


    • http://Website Y314K

      Yeap… Looking in to the other carriers, too… Although TMobile will be best for me… On ATT right now..


      TMobile – $40 a month (Unlimited Web & E-Mail)… Not sure if one can get it without Email and if that will drop the price down to $30… Might have to call them and find out… Anybody wants call and do some research..lol

    • krazytrixxxsta

      they still have it, with the sidekicks it 54.99 for unlimited data and messages, for laptop and window mobile devices and for blackberry it 39.99 for unlimited data they also have BlackBerry Unlimited w/Enterprise Email 39.98.

  • http://Website alphabuild

    Can you provide more details on these plans? This article is very vague about the conditions and prices. Everyone I ask says data only is a no go on carriers. I’m on VZW and have sipdroid enabled on droid. Thanx.

  • http://Website Gary bran

    you still have to pay for gizmo minutes or skype minutes on what you describe above, so its not really $ 30 a month

    • http://Website Brian Stringfellow

      Gary, thanks for the correction. I’ll have to verify when I get home, but I recall Gizmo now has a 3 minute limit on outbound calls only… for the free service.

      There are many other SIP providers, however, some cheaper than others, but you’re right about the actual cost. There may be another free service, but won’t be integrated as well as gizmo/sipdroid and GV.

      Google’s VOIP solution is much anticipated and I feel pretty certain it will include unlimited US domestic calling.

  • http://Website philchang

    I wonder about Truphone. It works well over wifi and 3g. I don’t think I’d be able to receive calls but I could always use google voice for a call back number.

  • http://Website ontheFritz

    Make sure to check how well GV works in your area first. I started using GV when I got my nexus one – very excited about the possibilities…. only to find out it worked terribly in the Fort Lauderdale area. Dropped calls, force closes, texts going to phone instead of GV. It really stole the magic of my first nexus weekend.

    • Brian Stringfellow

      I’ve used GV with land lines and cell phones since last summer on T-Mobile and have used GV almost exclusively since November on Verizon. Only on a few occasions have I noticed choppy voice quality, always on the cell side. Then again, I’ve noticed choppy voice quality on my cell without GV as well.

      I give GV a big thumbs up!

  • http://www.totaltelcomconsulting.com Robert

    I have sprint clients with $10 data only plans. We use them for gps connectivity. Both iden and cdma