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.

– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.

14 thoughts on “Update: How I’m Staying Connected While Traveling

  1. When you call someone from your mobile, I think your mobile number will show on their handset, NOT your GV number. That could be an issue.

    • Blue: that used to be true but isn’t anymore. There are a few ways to avoid your mobile number from showing: the last few versions of Android have had support for Google voice calls built in. You can choose to have all outgoing calls show your gv number, or even have the phone ask you before every call. iPhone users need to use the Google voice app or hangouts app to dial out and ensure their mobile number doesn’t show. Even non smartphone users can store the Google voice virtual numbers for their favorite contacts and call those, ensuring that Google voice then switches the caller ID to their gv number. There is also a wap compatible gv site you can initiate calls and texts from for non-smartphones.

  2. I considered doing this, but don’t like that gv doesn’t support mms. Is there a workaround for that besides using whatsapp or another messenger?

  3. As a former Sprint + Google Voice user, this setup definitely works better for Android users than for iOS ones. Before the Sprint integration, I found juggling multiple fake phone numbers on my phone very clunky, and I ultimately ended up moving away from this model when I got an iPhone because there’s no way to get a Google Voice number to work with iMessage.

    As for WiFi calling and texting, I recently switched to T-Mobile, which in addition to free international data and texting also routes calls and texts over Wi-fi (like Republic does) if you have a supported handset like the iPhone 5s or 6. It’s a pretty sweet setup.

    • Tonei: Thanks for the iPhone data points. T-Mobile does sound like a great idea for iPhone users. I’m envious of that international data and may find myself with Tmo soon enough.

  4. Im a little confused as to how you are getting free air time. That is, when somebody calls your gv and it gets routed to your prepaid number, that is then over the air when you answer, is it not? i. e. you need minutes for that. if you get an incoming google hangout call sure thats over wifi and free and sure outgoing google hangout calls are free, but explain to me how are incoming calls that you answer on your cell phone minute free? also, how do you get data on the go?

    • Jonathan: I probably should have been more detailed on how I’m getting service for so little. I purchased an Unlocked GSM phone, which allows me to use Tmobile, ATT, or any prepaid company running on their networks. You’re absolutely right, I need service on the phone in order to receive calls and texts. What follows is how I set up my service: In October Cricket wireless was offering $100 if you switched from T-mobile to Cricket. I wasn’t on Tmobile, but because my number is now with Google Voice I signed up for a tmobile number (Cost $1), and then ported that number into Cricket. In addition If a friend refers you to cricket you and the friend earn $25. I was referred, and I referred a friend ($50). Upon signup cricket offered me a free phone, which I sold on ebay ($50). All told they’ve paid me $200 in credits to use their service. My plan costs $35 a month and includes unlimited talk, text and unlimited data (2.5GB at LTE speed). Once I’ve run through my $200 in credits I’ll re-evaluate and see which prepaid company has the best offer. Or, if Cricket has some crazy promos again I can sign up with Tmobile ($1) and then do the whole thing all over again.

  5. It’s now July and wondering how this is working for you. I too had Sprint and GV (not integrated – used GV for voicemail on cell but never got hooked into the integration mess). Ported my Sprint # to Cricket a week ago and nothing but problems, many caused by Cricket misconfiguring APN’s, putting me on saturated ATT tower, etc. In my GV settings my cell shows as ATT not Cricket. While I know they are the same, I’m wondering if the difference in how your setup shows and mine are problematic.

    I’m using Android Lollipop non-rooted and get texts sometimes in GV, sometimes the messaging app built into phone, and sometimes both. I cannot set SMS to just GV – I have to pick ‘messaging app’ or Hangouts (not a fan). When I text from GV to a Google contact, it goes fine; when they respond it shows a strange 10 digit # not their phone number. I’ve set up GV voicemail for phone but it randomly goes to Visual Voice, Cricket voicemail (which is a 10 digit phone in different area code), but does not go to GV voicemail. I wondered if you had gone to TMobile because I can’t waste more cycles on Cricket. They won’t give me basic APN etc so I can troubleshoot it myself.

    • Emma:

      I’m still with cricket and still loving this setup. The biggest difference between you is I is that I ported to GV and just signed up for a new cricket number.

      That said, all cellular trouble really is local; my love of cricket is based on my location. I have no doubt it is awful in other corners of the country–as all providers (even the mighty Verizon wirless) have dead spots.

      You’re also correct that your choice now really is messaging or hangouts. Lollipop removed voice+ support, which I was lucky enough to have. Voice+ was a feature of my stock ROM, and allowed all outgoing texts, regardless of the app used, to appear to come from my GV number. At the time of writing this post I did not know that voice+ was allowing this seamless integration.
      The good news is that now that hangouts supports sms you can basically use hangouts for everything. At first I was very anti-hangouts, but I’ve come to enjoy it since upgrading to lollipop. The Google voice site becomes unable to text once you select hangouts as your sms choice, so be ready for that as well. You will have to use hangouts (via Gmail or google+) to send texts in the browser.

      One big pet peeve is that on the Google voice site only my contact numbers show up. In hangouts Google looks up anyone who’s name remotely matches and shows you people you don’t even know. As far as I can tell there is no easy way to pull only from your contact list in hangouts…

      Google keeps messing things up and then fixing them. If you have any other questions or anything isn’t clear feel free to reply.

  6. how did you get your GV number to verify with cricket? I’ve had the same google voice number forever. I forwarded that number to my tmobile phone and it always worked. I recently got a prepaid service cricket wireless (Att) and none of my GV calls will ring with my new service. so, I deleted my forwarding # and resubmitted it with the same # now I’m at verify phone and it won’t even ring to verify. this is obviously an issue with cricket. no one at cricket seems to know what’s wrong. help?

    • Maria: I verified it without issue via the google voice settings menu. Something you can try: Sign up an additional gmail account for a different GV number, and then try adding your cricket number to that NEW number. If the verification works then the problem is with your old GV number, and if it doesn’t work then it is indeed with cricket. Best of luck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *