Freedom never tasted so sweet.

So, my family has been in prison. Cell phone prison. We had iPhones with AT&T. That’s enough of that. The world is evolving, and cell plans are not.

So, my family has been in prison. Cell phone prison. We had iPhones with AT&T.

We’ve had them since the dawn of time. Well, actually, the dawn of the iPhone 3G. Recently, however, something important came to my attention: We don’t need traditional cell service, anymore. The world is evolving, and cell plans are not.

Here’s the deal – two iPhones and a simple cell phone for my dad. That’s one-hundred eighty dollars monthly. Why? Because we’re “special.” first, with an iPhone (any smart-phone, actually) you have to have a data plan. We are the unlimited data plan hold-outs – thirty dollars a month, for each phone. We have lousy cell service here in the mountains of Washington, so add another twenty dollars a month for the AT&T MicroCell (a service that lets you use your cell service over your internet connection).

Then there’s all the cost for the rest of the cell service that we’re not really using, because in the mountains, we rarely touch the phones. Even taking multiple trips into town, using Pandora all the way in and around town, we get nowhere NEAR the threatening level of data use that scares AT&T. Right now, At the time of writing, I used nine minutes call time of five-hundred fifty, one of the lowest calling plans, and I’m paying the bill in seven days. I have so many rollover minutes, that I may never be charged for a cell call for the rest of my life.

AT&T must love me – Paying for things we’re just not using. But no more – today, I’ve cancelled phone service to the two iPhones – no more Data charges, no more MicroCell charges, no more minutes charges – no more. Done. I’ll only be paying around thirty dollars for my Father’s phone, the only phone left on the account. Period.

Why this madness? Our phones are “smart” phones. They do things that used to be delegated to computers. You can load individual programs and run them. Things like Skype. Skype lets you place phone calls over the Internet. It started on the computer, but soon migrated to smart phones. We’ve had Skype on our phones almost as long as we’ve owned them. In fact, I thought it would be nice for my Wife and I to have an extra number. An actual dial-able phone number (with voicemail), and an unlimited US calling plan for Skype is around eighty dollars for a year (it’s a deal, one of them is half-off when you buy the other, but I forget which). That’s pretty easy on the wallet. Although the prices may be changing now that the big “M” (Microsoft) has taken over. We’ll see.

Now you’re probably seeing the logic: Skype plus Wi-Fi means no real need for AT&T. I thought about that, but I wasn’t convinced – what about being on the road? You still need some kind of service if you want to be reached on the road. My wife gets client calls often, and they need a way to contact her if we’re out and about. So, I had put the idea aside, hoping something cool would avail itself.

It was our iPads that finally helped me bring the last piece of the puzzle together. And not for the reason of ridding ourselves of the cell phone shackles. We only have Wi-Fi iPads, no cell connection. I got tired of our stops for a quick bite at places with no Wi-Fi. Shouldn’t everyone have Wi-Fi service by now? Shouldn’t the government make it mandatory, or something?

First I looked at our own cell phones for an answer to iPad connectivity, but AT&T wanted even more money to add Personal Hotspot service to the phones that already had that service built-in. Very annoying.

Next, I looked at stand-alone 3G “hotspots,” small, credit card-sized devices that, basically, use cell service as an internet connection. Trouble was, the cell providers wanted contracts for the service in exchange for a decent purchase point for the unit. Until I stumbled upon Virgin Mobile. They had a pay as you go service, twenty dollars a month for three-hundred meg of data usage, or fifty dollars a month for unlimited data. No contract. You can connect up to five devices at once. I thought of the pleasant afternoons my Wife and I would have sitting, sipping coffee, talking and playing War Of Words. Whether the stupid coffee shop had Wi-Fi or not (I’m telling you, mandatory…).

THEN it dawned on me: here was the answer to having Skype on all the time. Get the device, turn it on while traveling, and -poof- you can get a call. Heck, even the iPads have Skype, and the ability to use Bluetooth headsets; might just be able to leave the phones at home!

The purchase price of the Virgin MiFi 2200 was a little steep, one-hundred fifty dollars, but I found someone selling one on eBay for seventy: that made the experiment worth-while. Once I received it, I purchased a month at the lowest data plan, twenty bucks, then we drove into town with our iPhones only on Wi-Fi, connected to the hotspot. We could get calls at the Skype numbers with no trouble. We called each other and listened, the call quality was no different than a standard cell call. And there was the added benefit of being able to connect the iPads as well.

All for twenty dollars a month. Even with the purchase price of the hotspot, that’s one heck of a savings over the AT&T bill. Our cell costs have dropped from one-hundred eighty down to fifty (still have Dad’s cell plan). Haven’t found the need to up the monthly data charges to the fifty dollars a month unlimited data plan, but with the pay as you go plan, I can change that at any time – even drop it back down the next month if our data use goes back down. Note, however, that the hotspot isn’t very Mac-like, you do need to understand how a wireless router works to set it up properly. If you’ve done it for your house, you’ll understand after reading the instructions.

Right now we are always traveling together, but if that changes, I’ll get a second hotspot: We could both be on the road separately at twenty dollars a month each. I smile every time I think of that.

Now I devised this plan thinking about using our already-purchased iPhones and our iPads. You could start from scratch and just get a pay as you go phone, or use your newer iPod touch. Heck our next phone “upgrades” might actually BE to iPod touches (when they get Siri, of course…)! And, with the hotspot, we are wide open for all types of use, whether phone, Internet, laptops, iPads. This pretty much ends any troubles with connectivity.

“Can you here me now?” Yes. Even with no traditional cell service.

I’m still smiling.

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