Tag Archives: voip

How to do a Data Only Smartphone Plan for $25/month

These days having a smartphone means spending $60/month or more for a base package of loads of minutes you may never use, text plan, and a mandatory data package.  But what if you could buy just data, run voice over the data plan, and use IM clients instead of text?   Well now you can.

There are some pre-requisites for the scheme I’ve tested:

  • Unlocked GSM phone that understands T-Mobile 1700/2100 3G/4G plan or a phone locked to T-mobile and supports VOIP or Skype. The VOIP provider must be a true provider and not fake, like Google Voice, that works by using mobile voice minutes instead of data.
  • A $25/month Prepaid Simple Mobile plan (or $45/month for more data if needed). Simple Mobile is an “MVNO” that basically buys in bulk T-Mobile service and resells it.
  • A VOIP provider if you want to make calls, like Skype or localphone

This isn’t for the faint of heart, it requires some manual configuration changes, reading web sites, and an understanding of how all this fits together.

The Simple Mobile FAQ for its data only plan, which is mainly geared towards laptops and tablets, states:

I don’t own a Tablet, can I use wireless broadband on my smartphone?
While the Wireless Broadband plans are primarily meant to be used on a Tablet, they will also work on your smartphone. Please note that voice calling and SMS text messaging is not provisioned with these plans. The Wireless Broadband plans are for data use only.

Internet Access

To make this work, you need a supported unlocked (or locked to T-mobile) smart phone and a new SIM from Simple Mobile first, then add the $25/month plan.  There are multiple ways to get the SIM. You can order it from Simple Mobile’s website for $12.99 or buy it from a number of those small mobile phone shops that are in strip shopping centers or farmer’s markets (they can charge like $25) or buy one from ebay or amazon.com for a buck or two.

When you get the SIM, it needs to be activated on Simple Mobile’s website.  To activate it requires paying the first month of the plan.  I tried this using a credit card and had problems, probably because of high-fraud rates with prepaid mobile plans. Instead I went to my corner shop and asked for a $25 voucher for Simple Mobile. They just hand you a receipt with a PIN. Enter this into the website instead.

Once activated, you are given a phone number which is all but useless. You can’t use it to make or receive calls or send/receive texts. Remember, this is a data only plan. But you can use the Internet on your smart phone once it’s configured for your device (instructions on their website).

Adding Voice

You can now add a Internet-based voice account.  These usually cost per-minute for calls placed, but it can be pretty cheap like a penny a minute.  So even if you talk for 1000 minutes, that’s just $10.  And if you get an incoming phone number, that can include unlimited free incoming minutes.   I have been using LocalPhone for about a year now and have two incoming phone numbers, one in US in area code 302, and another in UK.   Each costs me 99 cents a month and you can choose which of your numbers is used for Caller ID.  So yeah, I have a local number in UK and it is displayed as my Caller ID.    You can also use other providers, like Skype if your phone supports it (but it must also support making those calls over data, not cellular voice).

Once your account is set up, on the LocalPhone website go to your account info and find “Call using the Internet” and on that page is info for how to set up calling on your VOIP device. It includes your account ID and password to put into your phone.

VOIP doesn’t use much data, but it does use data. And that data will come out of your prepaid Simple Mobile balance, which is 750 megs for the $25/mo plant. If you run out, you’ll need to add another month of data. If you run out a lot, best bump up to $45/month plan for 2 gigs or think about using their unlimited $40/month data/voice/text plan (although reports are they limit your Internet speed horribly on that plan).

Warnings

  • Simple Mobile uses T-mobiles network, but unlike T-mobile proper, it doesn’t include roaming on other networks. So you only get coverage in T-mobile areas. That includes pretty much all decent sized population areas but if you’re going to visit your relatives in Montana, forget it (the entire state doesn’t have T-mobile service)
  • To get 3G (i.e., decent speed) requires a phone that understands T-mobile’s data frequencies.
  • iPhones and iPads require a Micro SIM, needs to be unlocked and it will only run at slower 2G/EDGE speeds. Not recommended.
  • To do voice, the phone needs to support some sort of VOIP service.  That’s going to cost you extra, but not much.
  • People can’t text you.  Hey, you want cheap, you can’t have everything.  Install an Instant Messaging client on your phone and use that for messages.
  • There’s other prepaid MVNO plans out there that use other networks, like AT&T, but I haven’t found a data-only plan this cheap and that will work on a smartphone.

Using the Linksys SPA-3102 as a VOIP ATA

In other blog entries I’ve been discussing a larger project of setting up a personal Voice over IP (VOIP) Asterisk server using the Linksys SPA-3102 VOIP gateway device.

An ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) allows one to use old fashioned phones on a voice over IP network, or you can just use IP phones. An ATA like the SPA-3102  does not have to connect to an Asterisk PBX though. In a simple form, it can connect to any SIP VOIP provider for cheap Internet calls.   This is the same idea as other Internet phone plans like Vonage, Comcast, and Verizon, but you pay for only what you use, which can be as low as $0.00 a month.

Continue reading Using the Linksys SPA-3102 as a VOIP ATA

Personal VOIP/PBX using Asterisk, part 2

This is part two of my series on how to set up an asterisk server for home use on a Linode VPS — but is applicable to any host that doesn’t have additional hardware telephony devices installed in the server. Please refer to Part 1 for how to set up the dummy timing module.

Also, before continuing, please read my little sidebar post about IP telephony codecs. Most specifically the part on adding iLBC codec to the asterisk config. Then “read more” below for the rest of this post.

Continue reading Personal VOIP/PBX using Asterisk, part 2

IP Telephony Codecs

My first stumbling block when installing and trying to get Asterisk PBX working were the codecs and mismatching. If both ends of a connection can’t negotiate the same codec, the call won’t complete.

I grabbed the recommended asterisk config for gizmo5 and when attempting to place a call to my gizmo call-in number which should have landed it into my PBX I got the following errors and it disconnected:

[Jan 14 01:40:20] WARNING[23334] channel.c: Unable to find a codec translation path from 0x400 (ilbc) to 0x4 (ulaw)
[Jan 14 01:40:21] WARNING[23334] channel.c: Unable to find a codec translation path from 0x400 (ilbc) to 0x2 (gsm)

When trying to determine what went wrong, I found that ilbc is no longer part of Asterisk config, and ulaw is actually G.711 using the  µ-law algorithm. I also found that one can add iLBC codec to Asterisk by agreeing to a license agreement and running a script.

So hence this blog post, so I can document what I’ve learned and hopefully prevent someone else from having same frustrations.

Continue reading IP Telephony Codecs

Personal VOIP/PBX using Asterisk, part 1

Background

Voice over IP is simply placing phone calls over the Internet instead of  traditional phone lines. This means the calls are usually cheaper, but not free in many cases since often the telco lines have to get involved at some point to either originate or terminate a call. However, true voip calls are almost always free, no matter where in the world they are.

There are many commercial products out there already that makes this easy for a user, like Vonage and Comcast’s voice, but they have fairly hefty monthly fees. They do usually offer unlimited domestic (U.S.) calls.   But they also have drawbacks, like, ah not working if the power or cable goes out.

The next few posts will document my experience in rolling my own voip service.

Part 1 is compiling the support drivers on my “Linode” for Asterisk.

Click through for the details…

Continue reading Personal VOIP/PBX using Asterisk, part 1