Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Evolution of the Phone Bill

It does seem that cell phone plans are getting simpler these days. After Mrs. McG's mother passed away I adjusted our AT&T plan and discovered that our old rollover-minutes, unlimited text a-la-carte-features plan was horribly obsolete. We wound up with unlimited talk and text, with a shared pool of cellular data that would rollover any unused megabytes.

Since my phone was still on contract and Mrs. McG's contract had expired, our line charges were different (mine being painfully higher). The plan itself was a third line item on the bill. All in all, before taxes, fees, surcharges, assessments, etc., we were paying the phone company $105 a month for two lines.

Well, I recently bought out my AT&T contract and switched to Google Fi, using one of my two Google accounts to anchor it, and ported my AT&T number to Google Voice on the other account. Since my wife likes her iPhone and doesn't want to have to learn her way around Android, she's staying with AT&T. Without my line charge, and with a smaller pool of cellular data because I'm not drinking from the same trough anymore, the AT&T bill should be $50 lower, while I expect in a normal month with Fi's unlimited talk and text and pay-as-you-use data*, my phone bill will be barely above $20.
*This isn't how they describe it, since you pay your full anticipated data "budget" up front when service starts -- but thereafter their "credit" essentially means each month's data charge is for what you used the month before.
Technology is largely responsible for the arrival of unlimited talk on cell phone plans, but so is the evolution of use patterns. Text and data have become the growth loads on cellular networks, and while us old farts think of texting as SMS from phone number to phone number, alternatives like Apple's iMessage, Google's Hangouts, and all those social networking apps have accounted for most of texting's actual growth (Mrs. McG and I almost never use straight SMS anymore ourselves). Hence, data is what phone companies charge for.

Besides smaller phone bills, I switched to Fi because it allows me to use straight wifi for voice calling when the cell signal from one of Google's cellular "partners" -- T-Mobile, Sprint, or U.S. Cellular -- is too weak. It also means if I happen to be holding my tablet when a call comes in, I don't need to dig for my phone, I can answer it on the tablet using Hangouts. (I've done this once already, in fact.)

With AT&T I had never been happy with the voicemail system, and had been using Google Voice for voicemail on that number almost as long as I've had a smartphone. Google offered "visual" voicemail long before AT&T did, and although my AT&T contract phone was compatible with the carrier's latecoming VVM system, I was never able to get it working.

It remains to be seen whether I'll be completely satisfied with Google Fi, but so far I'm happy with the voice service over wifi; we'll see how "partner" cellular works out when the need arises. With AT&T I never used much cellular data and habitually used secure wifi whenever it was available -- and Fi allegedly protects connections over unsecured wifi with a type of VPN so now I'm more open to... open wifi. I get a better realtime picture of my data usage over cellular with Fi than I did with AT&T, which threatens to be an annoyance in new and different ways.

The real test of this service will come the next time we travel. We used a good chunk of our AT&T allotment during our Wyoming trip this summer, but I'll be paying less for data overages than the missus would.


  1. Almost three weeks in, and I've received a great many more calls on my old number than my new one -- none of them legitimate.

    I'll turn off the ringer on the app that receives calls on the old number. Anyone calling me legitimately knows to leave a message.

  2. You know what would be nice? If Apple and Google could collaborate on an iPhone that could support a Fi account. Then I could get Mrs. McG onto Fi and save us even more money.