For years now, we’ve been using the same two low cost alternatives to major carriers for our cell and data needs. Our plans still operate on major networks with excellent coverage, but cost us less than half of what the major carriers charge. Since switching, we’ve been saving over $100 a month. We only pay about $11/month for Republic Wireless plans with unlimited talk and text in the US, and about $25/month for Google Fi plans with unlimited talk and text coupled with worldwide data.
Why are these plans so cheap?
With these services, calls, texts, and data are routed through WiFi anytime it’s available. This actually works out better for us because the cell tower reception at our house isn’t great. Special software in the phone seamlessly transitions to using cell towers when WiFi isn’t present. I’ve tested this by calling a friend from home then walking down the street until I was out of WiFi range. I never lost the call, and couldn’t even tell when it switched from WiFi to cell signal.
Basically they’ve created a hybrid VoIP and cell phone plan to send data as efficiently as possible. Instead of spending all their resources on marketing gimics, these companies are working out how to streamline services and cut costs.
The best part is that there is no compromise when it comes to quality and service. If anything, I think it’s been better than what I experienced with major carriers. I used to get bills with meltdown-inducing overage charges that I’d have to sit on the phone for hours to argue over. I’ve never had to call Republic Wireless or Google Fi to dispute charges.
These plans work anywhere in the world
A huge benefit of the Google Fi plan over other cell providers that I’ve seen is that they offer $10/gig data anywhere in the world. I’ve personally used my Google Fi data in Costa Rica, Jamaica, Canada, and Spain (Belize is the only place that did not have coverage.) You don’t have to do anything, it just works seamlessly. International calls are only a few cents a minute, and you can’t beat having data for $10/gig while in the back roads of a country where you don’t speak the language.
Of course you can use both of these services anywhere there is WiFi at no extra charge. While the Republic Wireless plan doesn’t support international calls, I have used my Republic phone in Canada and Costa Rica to make calls and send texts to US numbers via WiFi. It worked just as if I was sitting at home in the US.
Both of these options have been way cheaper and easier to travel with than trying to setup international coverage with my old cell provider.
Buy or bring your own phone
With both of these services, you buy your own phone and just pay for service on a monthly basis. You can hunt around for the best deal on your hardware, and even buy used. They do however offer deals when you buy a phone through them and activate it on their service. The only drawback is that because of their special call routing software, only certain phones are compatible.
Ditching the iPhone
Neither of these services support the iPhone. This was a bit of a hurdle for me since I’d always had one and didn’t think I could part with it. What turned me over was how much my iPhone was costing me.
Even though I had AppleCare on my phone, I lost one over the side of a kayak. This was followed by a mini melt down where I lunged out of the kayak tearing my favorite board shorts. After diving into the river muck I came up empty handed and whimpered “all the things I love…” to my unamused wife. I then shelled out $700 bucks for a new one. These are not my proudest moments.
Finally, after reading all the awesome reviews, and seeing the incredible prices for plans, I switched to Republic Wireless. I went from an iPhone 5 to a Moto X. It was not the downgrade that I had expected. In fact, the Android phones have a lot of cool features that the Apple phones don’t. And most importantly, I still had an excellent camera.
All of the photos in this post (which have been shrunk down for download speed) and half of all photos on this blog were taken using our Android phones.
My pick for US only – Republic Wireless
Republic Wireless (affiliate link) has a larger selection of phones to choose from. They also have a bunch of cheaper options including a $100 phone.
Both of our moms are grandfathered into the old $10/month for unlimited talk and text plans. With taxes, the bill is around $11/month, and it never goes over that. With unlimited talk and text, there is simply no way for them to accrue extra charges. These plans are now $15/month which I still consider a great deal.
They operate on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks, but you only get cell coverage in the US. However, the phone also works for free anywhere in the world with WiFi.
You can check your coverage with Republic here.
My pick for frequent travelers – Google Fi
I used to be on Republic Wireless, but switched over to Google Fi since retirement because we travel a lot. Google Fi uses Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular networks when in the States, and I’ve noticed slightly better coverage over Republic Wireless. They also have deals with cell companies in 135 other countries to provide international coverage.
Google Fi has a smaller selection of supported phones, and they are a bit more expensive – starting around $250. Right now I have a Nexus 6 and Mrs CK has a Nexus 5X. The nice thing about the slightly higher-end phones is they do take better pictures.
We pay $20 a month for the first line with unlimited talk and text, $15 for an additional line, and $10/gig for data anywhere in the world.
I used to be a data hog, but I’ve reformed my ways – both to save money and not to be “that guy” who can’t stop surfing reddit long enough to hold a conversation in public. Now we use about 1 GB of data a month. With all the taxes, our bill usually comes to around $50/month for both of us.
You can get a $20 credit when you sign up using our referral link (I’ll also get some credit on my bill.)
Just don’t pay for the hype
We used waste an extra $100 a month on big name carriers, and we got worse service and coverage (my calls over WiFi are way more reliable than it was from cell towers.) Now, I have less meltdowns, and have an extra $1200 a year to spend on vacations to places where I get excellent cell and data coverage at no extra charge.