It all started this weekend when my two week old Droid X had a camera malfunction. It showed no input, no matter what me or the helpful Verizon tech guy did. All we got was a blank image with the heads up display working fine. As they didn't have a replacement or a close alternative (HTC Incredible) I returned the phone. If the hardware flaked this early I was worried what would happen later.
Problem 1) This left me for the first time in ~10 years without a cell phone number which was currently my only phone line
Problem 2) As a guy who blogs daily by smart phone and consumes a few hundred megabytes of wireless browsing each month, I became a little concerned (picture a large bead of sweat forming on my brow).
Being the Right Kind of Crazy
At this point I could have punted and picked up another phone or plan. My immediate options were an old Verizon phone (no) or going to the Apple store and dropping $300-600 (locked-unlocked) on an iPhone 4 and tie myself into another contract. Either way I wasn't thrilled about another year or two of AT&T wireless prison - dropped calls, crappy reception, overpriced bits.
I turned to the fount of wisdom for all things tech, the Internet, to dig up how to setup a wifi phone account with a Google Voice number and a dream. Google Voice requires a US number and one of the services that works well with it is Gizmo5. Unfortunately Gizmo is no longer accepting sign ups after Google's acquisition. Lucky for me, I just happened to have an old account*. But there's one more catch, a hurdle I'm more than ready to jump to make this work. Google Voice now requires at least one "physical" line.
Virtual Physical Lines
This is where things became a bit tricky and it took clever phone hackers to bypass the barrier. I'll need to setup a free/cheap SIP number this week in addition to Gizmo5 to satisfy the requirement of a US phone number for Google Voice. With this final piece of the puzzle I'll have a phone number with free calls in the US and a few cents for international calls. If full mobility is needed, I can pickup a portable mifi/wifi data node (Sprint/Verizon/etc). If I can make this work (almost there) and then refine it into a smoother one click process, it may force the separation and dumbing down of wireless pipes. To hell with bit discrimination.
Save Money Every Month
Right now using this means saving money. It'll be a much cheaper wireless bill at $50ish bucks instead of $85-120 dollars. That's a savings of $35-70 dollars every month. With market forces driving the cheapest bit as opposed to "bullshit bundles" we can expect the price per bit to drop rapidly to a commoditized level. Most of us want tasty cheap bits.
Lessons learned: (tip of the hat to Steve Blank)
- *= sign up for anything that sounds like a good tool. You never know when Google may buy it and lock you out
- Charging more for bits of a certain colored packet is data discrimination. Businesses that rely on this are begging to be disrupted
- Smart folks in this area have been struggling on a different front by pushing open spectrum to open up the airwaves to dynamic structured connectivity like wifi. Explore open spectrum for more background info