Update: How I’m Staying Connected While Traveling

Early this year, as part of a giveaway of a worldband GSM cellphone I went over some of the travel tech I use to stay connected.  I later wrote a post about how Republic Wireless is helping my wife and I stay connected anywhere she has Wi-Fi.

As tech related posts tend to become dated quickly I’m updating everyone on the new way in which I have made myself reachable anywhere around the world.

A large component of my strategy used to be Talkatone, and Google Voice.  Sadly, in May, Google cut support for most 3rd party google voice clients.  Instead of sticking with Talkatone I’ve actually doubled down on Google Voice, and now rely on it more than ever before.  Today I’ll go over how I’m working as a Cell Phone Free Agent, and how my travel benefits from this as well.

And...Loving it.

Hello, Control? Hello?

I’m a Cell Phone Free Agent… and Loving it.

I’ve been a Sprint customer for years, lured by the promise of unlimited data and cheap plans.  This is currently a fascinating time in the business of cellular service in the United States.  We’re moving towards a more standard model; where you pay for your phone and your plan no longer includes a phone subsidy. Unfortunately Sprint is not moving in this direction as quickly as T-Mobile and other prepaid companies are, and as such I was looking at leaving Sprint.

I started to craft an idea of this plan over the last month or two.  My wife’s phone provider, Republic Wireless has made wifi Calling and texting the cornerstone of their service. My biggest frustration with Republic wireless is their phone selection.  They’re very slow to bring new phones onboard.  In reading more and more about how they do this I realized I could “bake my own” version of this Wi-Fi/Cellular calling with Google Voice, and not have to rely on Republic Wireless.

I decided to move my phone number from Sprint to Google Voice. Porting into Google Voice meant my Sprint plan was cancelled, but my Phone number remains mine. I then signed up for service with a prepaid provider and forward all my calls to this prepaid number. I’ll detail the benefits of this later in this post.

After porting your number to GV you’re now left without cell service.  However GV forwards calls to any number you want it to.  What this means is I can sign up with a cell phone provider, connect service and get a phone number.  Then I can forward calls to that phone number with a few clicks. I never again have to port my number, I simply update my forwarding on www.google.com/voice.

In a way I’ve duplicated Republic Wireless’ service but have the advantage of being able to switch between T-mobile, AT&T, or any number of MVNO providers including MetroPCS (Tmobile), or Cricket Wireless (AT&T). I can also change phones to any GSM compatible phone. 

New Google Voice Setup

Here my main 310 area code number has been ported into Google Voice. I’m then forwarding calls to my new 562 cell number. If I changed service providers I would simply delete this 562 number and enter my new one, and calls would automatically be routed to the new provider.

Right now I’m trying out Cricket wireless (AT&T). In a few months I will try out Tmobile–I’ll do so by inserting a T-mobile SIM in my phone and paying for service with Tmobile. Whatever phone number I’m assigned doesn’t matter, as I’ll just set my GV calls to forward to it. No messy porting, no 2 day wait while service is switched, and no possibility my number or texts get lost in translation.

Benefits of This Setup:

Online Texting: My number is now available to text online and also call online. I love sending and receiving text messages from my desktop at work and have become addicted to this simple feature.  I can now send texts from my local number so long as I have internet, this includes on a plane or overseas.

Calling from Google Hangouts: I can initiate a call via hangouts, either on my phone or on a pc, which also means I can call anyone so long as I have wifi.  I especially like that this is not a third party app, and my battery life doesn’t suffer for using it. I also enjoy the fact that I can initiate a call from my computer and my cellphone will ring as if I’m receiving a call. I can also answer calls in the browser by forwarding calls to my gmail account.

Lower my bill whenever I can: If a new plan or MVNO comes out with a better plan than my current one I can change my service in a month or less.  To anyone calling or texting me there’s no interruption of service and I don’t have to worry about a provider bungling my number port. I can freely move from one provider to another, and take advantage of any “new customer” offers over and over since I don’t care about keeping my phone number.

T-Mobile International Data Plan:I’m not yet on one of these plans, but if I were I would be able to text from my local number anywhere I had T-mobile data. I’m looking to switch to T-Mobile, and can do so without any porting issues.

Google Voice Setup

Just like Republic Wireless, Except Homemade

When I have a bad cell Connection I can switch to WiFi and all my calls and texts come through to me just as if I was still on a cellular network. This isn’t a feature I’ve needed as I’ve found AT&T’s network to be solid in the Southern California area.

A benefit I have over Republic Wireless is the ability to use my phone for International calls. Currently Google Voice is giving the first minute free to 25 countries, and their rates can be some of the lowest around.  I keep $10 in my account for those times I need to call hotels or tour companies.

Google has a great system in place; your contacts are given google voice “virtual” numbers–so your dad’s cell phone might be (562)444-2222, but whenever he texts your GV number the text will come from a number Google assigns he and you. An android phone will automatically hide this conversion, but you could call or text the number and your dad will see the call/text as coming from your GV number.

Should You Do This?

There’s a bit of tech involved, and android certainly handles this a lot smoother than iphones would–but even a dumbphone would technically be able to work with this setup.

I’d say you should at least consider doing it.  If you travel a lot you can benefit from being reachable anywhere on earth, and if you don’t even want to bring your phone you can at the very least check voice mail, and text messages from a computer anywhere you’re staying. If you are a T-Mobile customer with free international data you’d be reachable via text message anywhere you have free T-mobile internet. You can also text on any internet enabled plane either from your phone or from a laptop.

If you’ve wanted an elegant, slim solution to keep your US number while you move about the world consider this home made Republic Wireless inspired solution.

Update to Add: The best way to test the above is to use your current Google voice number with your current phone.  Send texts, make calls, and see if you can get your current google voice number to show up without trouble. If you can, and/or are ok with the limitations of your phone and GV then port in your number to GV. At that point your settings should already be set for your number to show properly.