TruLocalPhone Magic, or how to beat Republic Wireless at their own game

A couple years ago, I’d written a brief post over on the MMM forums about how to beat the old Republic Wireless plans using Google Voice and other MVNOs. Of course, a lot has changed since then… including Republic’s pricing structure. Let’s revisit the topic, shall we?

In the latest Ask Daley, I had been asked about Republic’s calling plans, and I of course mentioned that it’s still possible for most people to meet those prices on their own if they actually knew their usage patterns and did a hybrid mobile-VoIP setup. Now it’s time to once again put my money where my mouth is with a prize fight, so to speak.

Normally, I firmly operate in the Cheap and Good end of the Iron Triangle,  but today we’re going to play around a little bit with the formula to demonstrate how Easy some of these alternatives really are to set up, and since most objections to my advice against Republic care so little about the quality, service, legal, privacy and datamining aspects of the Republic experience… I’m going to fight by their rules and will be fast and loose with privacy concerns and call quality as well. We should at least compare Republic’s banana to one or two other bananas for the sake of intellectual honesty, after all.

A Friendly Warning

By: Official U.S. Navy Page
By: Official U.S. Navy Page

Before we get into this slugfest, let me preface the suggestions moving forward with a little bit of sage advice. I don’t entirely endorse using the methods suggested. They will most certainly work, but some (not all) of these service providers mentioned aren’t recommended as part of the core guide for a reason. It’s not that they’re bad companies, it’s just that I try to keep incredibly high standards with my advice that is heavily influenced by the legal agreement, the quality of service and customer support provided, and a certain expectation of privacy from advertisers and dataminers in relationship to services being paid for. If you’re willing to overlook these issues, which you are if you consider Republic, then by all means seriously consider these alternate providers that didn’t make The Guide as well.

At least one of these mobile providers are also likely to heavily frown upon excessive usage situations and terminate your account if you abuse certain aspects of their service without sufficient financial remunerations. In that regard, it’s exactly like Republic Wireless in that to keep your providers happy and your bills low, you need to make sure you route as much of your mobile usage over WiFi as possible and give them enough money to make them happy to keep you on their service. However, they will be better than Republic because instead of fining you $500+ for “service abuse”, you’ll instead only lose your phone number and possibly get blacklisted from the carrier. What I’m saying is, don’t abuse their generosity.

Lastly, the following guide is the very embodiment of my ongoing advice of, “RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!” Knowledge truly is power, and a little bit of knowledge can pay huge dividends if you know how to apply it. This is true with everything in life, so embody this lesson. Now hang onto your knickers and keep your wits about you, tenderfoot… this master is about to drop some sweet science on your head with all the power of a ten megaton, thermonuclear knowledge bomb.

The More You Know

Let’s briefly discuss the tools necessary to make this telecommunications magic work in the first place. The first is the ability to read and fill out a web form, and change predefined settings within it. The second is pushing buttons on a telephone.

That’s right, pretty much anyone who can follow short instructions, and can use the internet and a telephone can reproduce what I’m about to suggest in well under five minutes once the core services and payment methods are established.

The most important part of these complicated skills comes down to one feature, and one feature only: conditional call forwarding. It is as simple to do as changing a couple preferences in the control panel on the end of a VoIP provider or pressing three to six extra buttons on top of a ten digit phone number on your mobile phone. You master this ability and seek out this calling option with the providers you choose, and the amazing world of hybrid mobile-WiFi calling will yield to your mighty fists like a glass jawed tomato can.

The other challenging part of this difficult to master skill-set is installing one to two applications on your smartphone, and then entering in a username, password, and sometimes even an extra two to three small bits of information, like a series of numbers or a domain address. You most likely will even be given a complete instruction page (with pictures!) where they tell you exactly where to put in these two or three extra bits of information.

Let me put it to you in less sarcastic terms: if you can change your data and MMS settings on your phone to use an MVNO, you can do this too.

Sizing the Opponent

First, we need to cut through Republic’s glossy sales pitch and strip it straight down to the specific features that separates it from traditional mobile phone service.

  • Calling and SMS over WiFi and Sprint’s mobile network.
  • Roaming on Verizon.
  • Can switch between plans up to three times a month.
  • No actual customer support.
  • $500+ penalty fee for undefined levels of service abuse and under-utilizing WiFi.
  • Proprietary handset that can only be activated on Republic.

Of course, the Republicists always gush about the “amazing prices” of the service, but we’re going to pop a hole in that idea real fast. The staunchest defenders, however, boil down to the people who get terrible mobile reception at home… so the service has a “premium” that they feel obligated to spring for – the ability to make and receive calls at home and about from one phone over WiFi or mobile service. We’re going to pop that premium idea pretty fast, too.

Keeping the Fight Clean (at least the first couple rounds, anyway)

Next, we need to set a couple ground rules before seriously playing with variants to keep it reasonably fair to both Republic and myself.

1) SMS text messages must be available over mobile data and WiFi.
2) There should be a unified voice mailbox.
3) The setup needs to be “unlimited” talk and text, with “unlimited” data*.
4) Due to Republic’s mandate of WiFi usage to “keep costs low”, most talk time can be farmed out over VoIP.
5) The setup must involve only one device, a smartphone.
6) Network roaming isn’t mandatory, but should be considered.
7) Handoff between WiFi and mobile calls isn’t mandatory, but should be considered.
8) Not overly complex to set up or place calls.
9) All communications can be done through a single phone number.

*The problem with these claims are how nebulous Bandwidth.com is about acceptable mobile usage levels of any of the services off WiFi, with the exception of their 5GB data cap, which is a pretty tall order to reach outside of purchasing the $300 Moto X and paying $40+ for their 4G plan. Of course, this is part of the problem: no defined limitations to their “unlimited” services with a hefty financial penalty attached for crossing those undisclosed lines. No other provider does this! For the sake of argument, however, we’ll define “unlimited” minutes the same way most prepaid MVNO and VoIP providers do: between 3000-5000 minutes a month, or 50 and 83⅓ hours.

Our Right Hook & Left Jab – Localphone + Google Voice

Next up is going to be the one-two punch to make these various plans truly compete. After all, the key to making this whole thing work is going to be really cheap VoIP service. Enter Localphone, the first of our tools. This is a VoIP provider that offers good call quality, does a bit of data scraping, and doesn’t offer e911 service. What makes them so significant to this plan are their prices and features. Let’s break it down:

  • 99¢/month incoming DID with free VoIP terminated minutes
  • 0.5¢/minute pay as you go outbound to the United States
  • monthly outbound minute bundles as low as 0.1¢/minute ($5 for 5,000 minutes)
  • the ability to set outbound Caller ID to any phone number you own
  • bring your own device (softphone or hardware) support

You can see how important this is going to be given the rates involved, though its real value might very well be challenged in the future as Google better integrates Hangouts into the other half of our setup.

What’s the other half of this little magical combo? Google Voice. Yes, that Google Voice. Still. You know that I don’t exactly recommend using them myself, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth after Google pulled the plug on XMPP support back in May and the growing pains as it’s getting integrated better into Hangouts, but it still offers free call forwarding with global call hunt, free visual voicemail with email notifications, and SMS messages for the price of data. It can and does still work.

Round 1: Leading with the Chin – P’tel Mobile

Our first round is going to be fought like a doughy middle-weight in the same $40 class. Nothing to write home about, but it will have a couple caveats that might make the Republic plan look more favorable. I’m okay with that, because I’m letting the first round be fought on their nebulous “unlimited” terms. Our backbone will actually be my trusty-rusty favorite MVNO P’tel, and their $40/month $35/month Unlimited Talk, Text & Data plan* with 500MB 4G data (they’re a T-Mobile MVNO), combined with a single Localphone DID for 99¢/month plus their $5 5000 minute plan to place calls that appear to originate from your GV number and to forward to Google Voice directly for voicemail if there’s no answer. Now, why P’tel? Two reasons: 1) “unlimited” 2G data, 2) they allow reasonable amounts of conditional call forwarding on their “unlimited” calling accounts which is pretty rare with MVNOs who have plans that don’t bill by the minute, which means flawless GV voicemail integration.

The Configuration: You’ll technically need two apps installed, Google Voice and Bria. (Acrobits is an excellent substitution, as is CSipSimple for Android or Linphone for multiple smartphone OSes, but we’re keeping it focused to “officially” supported software from the provider.) Google Voice will be your mobile dialer, voicemail manager, and your SMS interface. Bria is a softphone that integrates with your contact list and that you will use to place and receive calls over WiFi from your Localphone account (Bria configuration here). Your P’tel and Localphone numbers will both have all conditional call forwarding enabled and routed to Google Voice. Localphone’s outbound Caller ID should be set to your GV number. All your calls and texts will appear to be from your Google Voice phone number.

The Cost: $46/month $41/month* between P’tel ($40) ($35)* and Localphone ($6), $12 in setup for Localphone DID ($3), P’tel SIM card ($1 – Ebay), and Bria softphone ($8).

Not bad, but given the caveats in this setup along with the price, I’m willing to give this round to Republic simply from a service coverage and raw number standpoint. That said, everything is pretty well delivered upon down to being able to switch between mobile and WiFi on incoming calls by pressing (*) on the dialpad. The only things that come up short is the lack of roaming off network from T-Mobile, and only having the first 500MB of data being high speed.

Round 2: The Bout Continues – T-Mobile Prepaid

Next up, we mix things up a little bit and start putting usage restrictions on our own end in place. If Republic can hide various mobile usage restrictions to whittle down cost in and attempt to deliver more data, then I only think it’s fair for us to be able to game the system and do likewise. This time, we’re going to substitute out the P’tel plan with T-Mobile‘s $30 Prepaid plan that offers unlimited text and data (first 5GB 4G) and 100 mobile minutes. Although they do not permit conditional call forwarding to be set from your phone, some folks have reported being able to call T-Mobile technical support for a manual override on the voicemail to forward to Google Voice, or you could have them disable your voice mailbox which still lets GV handle all missed calls on the mobile end (this latter setup means you will lose the option to have others call your mobile number directly and leave a message). They also provide voice and SMS roaming off network, which greatly expands coverage. Now, 100 minutes isn’t much talk time, but people have been known to successfully run VoIP calls over T-Mo’s 4G coverage areas, even if using it could technically be a violation of Section 18(i) of their Terms and Conditions.

The Configuration: Exactly the same as before, Google Voice and Bria. Google Voice will be your mobile dialer, voicemail manager, and your SMS interface. Bria is the softphone that you will use to place and receive calls over WiFi from your Localphone account, with the option of making calls over 4G if necessary/possible. Your T-Mobile and Localphone numbers will both have all conditional call forwarding enabled and routed to Google Voice. Localphone’s outbound Caller ID should be set to your GV number. All your calls and texts will appear to be from your Google Voice phone number.

The Cost: $36/month between T-Mobile ($30) and Localphone ($6), $21 in setup for Localphone DID ($3), T-Mobile SIM card ($10) and Bria softphone ($8).

We’re certainly getting a lot closer to competing now, and technically this even delivers on voice roaming off-network and having 5GB of 4G data access to boot, which a lot of Republicists like to flog. Similar minor caveats as before, but certainly starting to become very livable given the comparable monthly savings and the fact that if you needed to buy a new phone and wanted high speed mobile data, you could now opt for the carrier unlocked $130 Moto E instead of having to shell out for Republic’s $300 proprietary Moto X. If you’re seriously in the market for this level of usage and speed, Republic’s deal is already starting to go upside down.

Round 3: Rope a Dope – Ultra Mobile

So far, we’ve been competing with Republic’s heavyweight plan, but let’s start sliding down the price scale and begin to fight just as dirty as they are on that front. They pad prices by not actually having to deliver on the numbers promised to 90+% of their customers (especially on the data end), so we should be able to do likewise by sizing to cheaper fixed quantities ourselves.

I’ve always argued that the best ways to save money on your mobile phone bill is to not buy into the unlimited fallacy by knowing what you actually need and actually paying for it, and to kick the bloated data habit. Let’s start doing both while also mixing in some further privacy and support compromises with a second tier T-Mobile MVNO that I wouldn’t normally recommend. This time we’re going to build off of Ultra Mobile‘s recently added $19 Unlimited talk and text plan with 100MB of 4G data, and even sweeten it up a bit with an extra 200MB tacked on for a total of 300MB of mobile data, which is a decent amount by 2G (or Sprint’s throttled 3G) service standards. We’re also going to swap out the ridiculous 5000 outbound minute package with Localphone’s far more realistic 800 minute package for $1.60/month and leave the remainder of the setup as is. As is the case with the T-Mobile plan, we can have Ultra disable the account’s voicemail to try and keep things unified since they don’t permit call forwarding.

The Configuration: Once again, we go with the same Google Voice and Bria apps, and the same service configurations as the first two times.

The Cost: ~$25/month between Ultra Mobile ($22.50) and Localphone ($2.60), $11 in setup for Localphone DID ($3), Ultra Mobile SIM card ($0 – Amazon), and Bria softphone ($8).

We lose our voice roaming off the T-Mobile network again, but we’re still dealing with “unlimited” mobile minutes, we get faster data than Republic’s $25 plan even if the quantity is lesser, and we still have plenty of WiFi talk time. Yeah, a little bit of a technical win could still be given back to Republic on the ease of use and promise of “unlimited” on the data end, but we’re starting to showcase how tailoring to your actual needs can actually start providing superior options for the same money or less, even if we wasted most of our money on keeping our unlimited talk time on the mobile end this round.

Brief Aside: Why no Ultra Mobile in the guide, Daley? Easy. Age of the company (just coming up on two years October 2014), datamining and privacy, and the quality of customer service I’ve encountered lands somewhere between talking to an eight year old and dealing with America Movil; but technically it’s no worse than Republic for those exact same reasons, and at least Ultra has a phone number that you can call with real people that will answer on the other end! But I’ve digressed…

Round 4: The Knockout Punch – The Amazing TruLocalPhone

So far, I’ve been pulling my punches while still trying to mostly play fair despite Republic’s rigged “unlimited” mobile everything fantasy, and giving them the technical wins despite the horseshoes in their own gloves… but my own gloves are off now, and I’m putting on a pair of brass knuckles to even the fight. Let’s still play along with the whole “unlimited” fallacy and really exercise our own badass personal restraint on mobile usage and primarily utilize WiFi everywhere to keep costs low, which is what Republic technically wants you to do anyway. We’re dropping into Republic’s $5-10/month flyweight division now where there’s no mobile data at all and possibly no mobile network use at all, but for the same money, I’m gonna deliver on mobile service with ridiculously “unlimited” calling and even some mobile data where they can’t. Oh yeah, did I also mention that this plan will roam and have data access on both the AT&T and T-Mobile networks here in the United States, as well as cost nothing more to do that same sort of GSM roaming in seven other countries?

Let me introduce you to the brass knuckles: Truphone SIM. Truphone is a global VoIP and mobile network operator that does prepaid phone service, amongst other things. They’re based out of London, UK and have been around since 2001. Business is insanely good for them as they work with Fortune 500 companies amongst other clients. If you’re an international businessman, you’ve probably heard of ’em. Their customer support is top notch, too. I’d never really considered listing them in the guide due to cost until a very recent change to their pay as you go pricing here in the United States (as well as the other core Truphone countries). That change? Free incoming voice and SMS messages, 9¢ per minute and SMS out, and 9¢ per MB. Data is also billed by the kilobyte as well now, making their data rates even more reasonable. There’s no monthly service fee, and unused balance rolls over so long as there’s some activity on the account every month. Call forwarding is billed at 9¢ a minute, which means flawless GV integration again. It is $30 to buy in for a SIM card with a $15 account credit, however. Since they’re a global GSM provider, this also means that all your older CDMA+GSM world handsets from Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular that were carrier locked out of domestic GSM providers but could still use foreign SIMs now have a local option. That’s right Verizon and Sprint iPhone 4S owners, you can now use Truphone as your domestic GSM MVNO as well without jailbreaking or doing stupid SIM card tricks! Given the new pricing and the services provided, Truphone deserves a place in the guide.

We’ll be pairing Truphone and Google Voice with our original Localphone 99¢ DID and $5 for 5000 minute packages, and restricting as much usage to WiFi as humanly possible.

The Configuration: The same as it ever was, same software and routing, slightly different players. Have your smartphone disable mobile data except when absolutely needed.

The Cost: Starting at $7/month (with 11MB of data!) using Truphone ($1 for mobile data) and Localphone ($6), $26 ($41) in setup for VoIP DID ($3), Truphone SIM card ($30 – but provides $15 account credit), and Bria softphone ($8).

That setup is basically with unlimited outbound talk, too… and we’re using a lazy method of doing outbound calling done for the sake of simplicity. What if you instead initiated all outbound WiFi calls through GV directly (like back in the Talkatone GV XMPP days) by simply taking the time to switch inbound numbers between your Truphone and Localphone numbers in the GV app? You do that (or substitute out less minutes), you knock out up to another $5 off that $7 base cost, effectively turning it into a minimalist pay as you go service.

Now ask yourself, if you could potentially get all the major advantages of a Republic Wireless phone (excuse the ability to hand-off between mobile and WiFi calling) plus global GSM voice and data coverage for less (or even equal) money per month than what Republic charges for just their $10 mobile talk and text plan without any of the legal disadvantages (excuse the datamining), and you could do so with any GSM smartphone you wanted so long as it had a SIP client and either a web browser (or ideally a native GV app), including the iPhone, Blackberry, a Windows Phone, Palm’s defunct WebOS phones, any Symbian S60 handset or whatever other exotic old standby you adore that fit the criteria, and all you had to do to make that happen is maybe five minutes of call forwarding settings… would you actually spend the money on Republic Wireless? Would you even give them a second thought?

Rubbing an Entire Margarita in the Wounds (why stop at the salt?)

Now that we’ve delivered a brass flavored Sunday punch to our opponent and left them kissing the canvas for a full eight count, let’s play a game of What If?

What if you actually took my advice from the guide? What if you knew your actual minute usage needs, and you took the advice to push most of your text messaging over to data services like XMS and Kik as I’ve advocated in the past? What if you actually took my advice and went on a massive data diet? What if even after all these changes you were still tempted by Republic’s offerings and were willing to throw your privacy away to advertisers to supplement your calling habits? What if you were okay with not relying on Google Voice for anything but voicemail (or if GV disappeared) and were okay with only relying on mobile service for actual SMS text messages? What if you were okay with having one phone number for texting and one for calls? What if Google finishes properly integrating Voice with Hangouts and you don’t need to use Localphone anymore? What if you had a global CDMA+GSM phone like the iPhone 4S and dragged in a secondary MVNO like Page Plus to also give you Verizon CDMA coverage on top of our AT&T and T-Mobile GSM network coverage provided by Truphone?

If you’re an absolute frugal heavyweight on the subject of communications, as I’ve pointed out, it is now technically possible to begin to nearly replicate the Republic Wireless experience for as little as $2.00 a month with minimal effort (and with or without using Google Voice) using the providers namechecked in this post, and still have nearly unlimited incoming WiFi calls. We live in an amazing age, and if you know what you need and know what’s available to tailor to those needs, but you still find yourself wanting something like Republic anyway and are willing to sacrifice a few privacy or quality points… this is where a little knowledge and research turns you into the Sugar Ray Robinson of communications. You’re no longer bound to a dismal selection of overpriced phones or to only one carrier. You can mix and match and create a custom solution that fits your needs every bit as good as the prepackaged option, for less… and all you need to know is how to set up a mostly canned configuration softphone and manipulate conditional call forwarding on your smartphone’s carrier. Heck, with the tips and tricks presented thus-far, you could mix and match with any MVNO and VoIP provider you want to achieve the same results!

The Technical Skills

I’ve put on quite a show, now it’s time to teach you how to do the same.

Since I’m not a huge Google Voice fan, and given it is thoroughly documented and easy enough for my own mother to set up and use, let’s not fiddle with the details of configuring that. Let’s instead discuss the other two call forwarding methods that can be utilized that either eliminates or reduces Google Voice usage to only the Lite version that does voicemail management only if your other voicemail options are left wanting. We’ll call it the Daisy Chain.

Before we go any further, it’s important to point out that you will normally get billed per minute for call forwarded calls. In the case of PAYGO services like P’tel Real Paygo or Airvoice’s $10 plan, call forwarding will get billed as both incoming and outgoing minutes. Under these circumstances, that 5¢ a minute becomes 10¢. Normally this isn’t a big deal, because you won’t use it for much else other than re-forwarding missed calls to a voice mailbox, but it is important to know. The same goes with VoIP services that bill by the minute. Call forwarding costs money, and will increase your per minute costs if you use it extensively. Even if inbound is free, you will get charged outbound. It’s not such a big deal going from VoIP to mobile for long conversations (especially at 0.1¢/minute), but it could get financially ruinous or potentially get your account terminated and lose your number for abusing the “unlimited” calling if you forward from mobile to VoIP too much.

The Daisy Chain is basically where instead of having a primary VoIP number like Google Voice do global call hunting where it’s effectively a virtual number that rings multiple other numbers at the same time like we’ve done in the above setups, we instead make either the mobile or the VoIP number our primary contact number.

First, let’s discuss the Mobile Daisy Chain. This is where the mobile number is the primary, mostly because you need mobile service, or you want to stick with non-data SMS services because you only want to hand out one phone number, or you’re in some situation where you need the ability to receive mobile calls over a data connection, or you don’t want to rely on mobile data to place an outgoing call… you get the idea. For whatever reason, the mobile part of the service is the more important one. With this setup, you would set your conditional call forwarding on your mobile account the same way you would for Google Voice, only instead, you’re forwarding to your VoIP account’s phone number. Then, you either use your VoIP account’s native voicemail service, or if it isn’t that great (like in the case of Localphone’s voicemail), you then set conditional call forwarding for your VoIP account to the phone number that you’re given for use with Google Voice Lite (or whatever alternate voicemail service you choose to use). Under these circumstances, you would set your outbound Caller ID on the VoIP account to reflect your mobile number.

Now we’ll deal with the VoIP Daisy Chain. This is where the VoIP number is the primary voice line, mostly because you mostly need WiFi service, or you don’t mind having two numbers to hand out (one for phone, one for SMS), or you possibly want all your voicemail on your mobile phone’s voice mailbox either for access reasons or an inability to do call forwarding on your mobile account. For whatever reason, the cheap minutes over data are probably what matter most. With this setup, you would set conditional call forwarding on your VoIP account to forward to your mobile phone. From your mobile phone, you can then just leave it as is if you want to use your mobile voice mailbox, or you can drag in a Google Voice Lite voicemail service on this end too, doing conditional call forwarding to it.

As you can see, it’s a powerful tool, yet pretty straight forward. Call Forwarding is basically kicking the can down the line from one phone service to the next until someone is available and can pick up on one of the two lines, or it goes to voicemail.

“That’s all and fine,” I hear you say, “and I get that. Now, how do I do it?

Good question!

We’ll start on the VoIP end. Most all open standards VoIP providers from the guide are going to have settings and configuration options well documented, but since we’re dealing with Localphone, let’s link their instructions. The documentation is a little spartan, but it tells you where the Call Forwarding settings are, and the configuration page is pretty self explanatory. Set all the conditional call forwarding settings to forward to the number of your choice. That means you do not turn on the forward every call option, just the ones for busy, unavailable, or after X seconds of ringing. Simple, no?

Next, we’ll cover GSM conditional call forwarding configurations. This is for your AT&T and T-Mobile based providers. The big, bad cheatsheet for GSM programming codes can be found here, with the most relevant setting being the one for activating all conditional call forwarding: *004*1[dest]# to enable and ##004# to cancel and forget. [dest] is your ten digit phone number you want to forward to. With GSM call forwarding, you need to include the 1 before your phone number, but I included it as part of the code above. Do not dial 1 twice while entering your phone number.

I know some of you will see the GSM codes for setting your voice mailbox down at the bottom of that linked page, but don’t mess with that unless you know what you’re doing and your carrier tells you its okay to do so. Just don’t mess with it, ‘kay?

Of course, Sprint and Verizon don’t use common codes between them. To conditional call forward on Sprint, it’s *28[dest] to enable and *28 to disable. Verizon is *71[dest] to enable, and *71 to disable. You do not need to dial the 1 first like the GSM instructions, the ten digit number alone is fine.

Of course, before tinkering with call forwarding on any mobile device, be sure to check with support to ensure 1) that they support conditional call forwarding, and 2) that you have the right codes for use with that provider. Not all the mobile providers namechecked in the earlier comparison support it (T-Mobile Prepaid and Ultra Mobile). There are other MVNOs that do permit call forwarding though, such as P’tel, Truphone, and Ting.

Going the Distance

tl;drYou have my word: even despite the teal deer nature of this post, it’s not difficult to do this. If you can survive the migration to an MVNO and you want to leverage some VoIP in your calling without necessarily bringing back the home phone, this is it. Of course, I’m going to suggest that if you do actually try this, try to do it with a VoIP provider from the guide proper, like VOIP.ms. It might not be quite as cheap as the examples above, but remember the golden rules: pay for what you need and you always get what you pay for. If you follow those rules, it’ll still be cheaper and more flexible than the competition.

This is also an exercise in showing that what is being done by Bandwidth.com is neither cheap nor special. It’s not that I want to dislike Republic Wireless, I really don’t… but their terms and conditions are complete bull droppings, and their business model and advertising approach is doing more damage than good in both the mobile networking sector by setting unrealistic expectations with customers and environmentally given how their services continue to feed the great wide maw of electronic waste and needless new smartphone production and purchasing. What they are doing is not necessary to actually save money on mobile phone costs or to utilize a hybrid phone service approach.

Save a phone, save a tree, and roll your own communications. Remember kids, prepackaged is for palookas.

 

*Update 04 August: P’tel just price adjusted some older plan prices and introduced some new calling packages. The $40 Unlimited Talk & Text Plan with 500MB of 4G LTE service is now $35. Post has been edited accordingly. It is also worth noting that in addition to the price drop on data plans, P’tel has introduced a $20/month Unlimited Talk & Text with no data, and $25/month Unlimited Talk, Text & 2G data plans. Both of these new plans are a welcome addition to the P’tel lineup, and could be even more useful within the context of this post.

*Update 12 September: For those of you who own an Android device and are still scratching your heads claiming that this setup is too complicated, it was partly due to the workaround nature that was necessary due to Google’s abandonment of the Google Voice app in favor of Hangouts, and Hangouts’ inability to place calls directly under Android. Well, that has changed with the release of Hangouts v.2.3. You can pretty much just get rid of the Google Voice app, Bria, Localphone and the whole shebang and replace it all with Hangouts, which you can then pair with the cheapest pay as you go MVNO of your choosing for your area, including Truphone, which would be a fantastic pairing with the service due to the free incoming calls and texts. No conditional call forwarding tricks outside of what you’d already do for Google Voicemail integration on your cellphone, minimal configuration with Google, and it’ll just work. You’re welcome, cheapskates.

11 thoughts on “TruLocalPhone Magic, or how to beat Republic Wireless at their own game

  1. I’ve just set up something similar to this on my phone–a Moto G that would otherwise have languished in a box upstairs. Instead of LocalPhone, I went with voip.ms, which is a bit more expensive at $0.01 per minute–but billed in 6 second increments. And I think avoids the data mining. I’m using Zoiper as my SiP client. I plan to pay for the occasional outgoing call when I’m away from WiFi, rather than trying to use VOIP over cellular data. That said, TruPhone has its own app, much like Skype, where calls are $0.01 per minute or free between users of the app.

    A couple of potential things to note in this setup:

    1) it turns out that sending SMS via Google Hangouts (that is, to someone not using the Hangouts app) does count against your cell phone plan. I discovered this when I logged into my TruPhone account to find that I had eaten up about $1.00 in outgoing text fees $.09 per outgoing text) I decided not to take SMS in Hangouts anymore, opting instead for the older Google Voice app. I had to text those people who text me most frequently and give them my new text number, but not too big a deal. I mostly send texts over WiFi–and usually from my laptop, rather than from my phone. Best physical keyboard around.

    2) I haven’t tried this yet but HowardForums report that TruPhone adamantly does not support call forwarding to Google Voice. I’m going to try the GSM codes and see whether they will work, but am not optimistic.

    3) It took 5 days to port my mobile number to TruPhone, and I had some weirdness the first day (similarly reported on HowardForums) when my mobile didn’t ring at all when I called, or rang only once before being forwarded to voicemail. I’ll keep an eye on that.

    I’ve gone on a data diet using last month as “proof of concept.” It was a good thing I did, because I discovered that my android was “leaking” data. My daughter asked to play a game on my phone, one I had previously downloaded while on WiFi. I didn’t realize that my cellular data was turned on and 5 minutes of playing the game ate up 20 MG. But I think I’ve got that straightened around. I mostly keep the data off since I’m on wifi anywhere from 80 to 98% of my day.

    When I first visited this site, I thought you were speaking another language. I knew what VOIP was, but softphones and SiP clients and XMPP protocols were all Greek to me.

    Thanks for this helpful guide!

    • Glad it was of use to you, Jerebo!

      For others, the era of needing Hangouts and other apps to bridge the gap and use WiFi for calling/texting on mobile phones is quickly coming to an end, unless you’re just doing it to be cheap. P’tel has quietly started offering WiFi calling now – just like their parent network, and I suspect others will be following suit as UMA and VoLTE becomes a regular thing with all the major carriers and supported on more phones.

  2. Thank you for the information. I’ve been on the fence about using RW’s service shortly after hearing about them, and after reading this post, I am all the more uncertain of their value proposition. For several years now, I’ve been using a cheap old Nokia phone using Net10, and haven’t had many complaints, and in fact I think they provide excellent network coverage, and on my plan, no extra charge for roaming usage. Now with that being said, I must admit while I consider myself relatively tech-savvy/tech-literate, a lot of this lingo is beyond my current knowledge-base, and frankly quite a bit confusing. Would you be so kind as to break down the steps to get set up using your strategy in the simplest neophyte-friendly terms (as in step by step)? Also, for what it’s worth, if you were to create a youtube video that explains this process, I think you may expand your reach tenfold.

    Again, thank you for providing a great counter-narrative to what seems a like a too-good-to-be-true cell service.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Paul. I’ve had a couple people approach me about doing some videos, but I’m still not certain that I want to take that leap as of yet.

      Regarding laying out the setup for neophytes on this topic, I’ll readily admit, I tend to build upon the information of the guide itself, where much of the groundwork is laid for the more advanced stuff in some of these posts, and I also have a personal failing where I dislike rehashing instructions from most providers technical support pages.

      …perhaps if Technical Meshugana were more financially self sufficient, it’d be a different matter – but I’ve eschewed advertising money and the site runs only on free-will donations and an Amazon shop. I appreciate all the support I get, and I give help the best I can to anyone who asks, but providing these resources are more of a labor of love than an income stream.

  3. The best way to beat Republic Wireless at their own game? Keep your wallet shut to them and setup your own WiFi phone using Google Hangouts along with the Google Dialer. Free WiFi calls!

    • Exactly, I have been thinking about this as well. Nothing against republic wireless, but after reading and doing some research online, I’m not sure I want to pay for such limited hardware to be with republic wireless. When you can do exactly the same with Google Hangouts.

      On the iPhone (tested), one simply download the Google hangouts app, enable the receive incoming call/text function and you have yourself a free wifi phone. Ok fine, you would have to pay $20 if you wan to port your number to Google, but that’s it.

  4. I’m slightly/very confused by this article – as far as I know, the GV app doesn’t actually support callback – you’d need something like Voice+ to get callbacks to work. If one is setting this up from scratch, it seems to be easier to instead get a dual-sim phone (Lenovo K910 is currently the ideal phone for this, but something like a H9008 or even a Blu Advance 4.0 should work), place a Red Pocket 512MB SIM in the 3G slot, the Truphone SIM in the second slot, and, with Voice+, you now have unlimited calling + 512MB for about $5 per month. If you really want VoIP when possible, sign up for a free Callcentric number, and set up Tasker (or equivalent) with a SIP app so that the app only connects when connected to Wifi networks (I recall that this requires another app which has the capability to block and unblock certain apps with the IPChains firewall when given a set of conditions, but it may be possible without this – and IPChains pretty much requires a rooted phone, but if you’re willing to set this up, rooting probably isn’t too difficult for you).

    • From what I’ve seen, since Hangouts has ascended as the preferred face-app for making calls, the Google Voice app now appears to be a simple wrapper to their slim mobile web Google Voice interface, which includes the options of setting/changing which phone number is attached to the device the app is installed on, and all calls out are initiated through the same ringback mechanism used with the Google Voice website. If I am incorrect on this understanding, let me stand corrected.

      I see where you’re going with the dual-SIM approach, but one thing to remember with this post is that I’m not actually entirely over the moon about recommending doing this unless you actually need a hybrid calling approach in the first place! (And then, I still recommend using more expensive VoIP carriers than what was actually used in this post.) I know I mentioned doing VoIP data through a mobile connection with the T-Mobile plan, but I actually don’t recommend doing this at all as a reliable means of voice communication. This was a post primarily constructed for cheap and stingy people who think Republic is a good deal and to demonstrate to them that it really isn’t for what you’re actually paying for. One thing you will note about my advice is that you should always pay for what you need and not sacrifice quality just to penny pinch a couple bucks.

      This post doesn’t fit that model. It’s all about sacrificing quality the same way Republic does to get the cheapest, most miserly service possible where quality and privacy doesn’t actually matter simply to show that Republic’s pricing isn’t actually the bargain it’s portrayed to be.

      Regarding Red Pocket, the cheapest data only plans they are offering anymore are $10/1GB/month plans, this happened with the price restructuring and introduction of prepaid service on the big four carriers after branching out from being an AT&T only MVNO. It’s not that this isn’t a good price for mobile data, it is, but I also try to teach people that they don’t need so much data in the first place.

      As for CallCentric and their DID pricing for certain regions, I again knew this post was going to be read by some of the cheapest and stingiest people out there who are more than happy to freeload and abuse services just to save a few cents. I deliberately left them out of this conversation as I felt it appropriate to not potentially ruin a good thing with a good provider. I also tend to advocate that people should pay for what they use as free frequently comes at a far higher price than most people realize. That said, I let Google Voice slide, because nearly everyone’s already datamined to the point of colonoscopy with the Googleplex anyway.

      I appreciate the questions, ideas and feedback. I hope my response helps to clear up any possible confusion.

  5. Loved this piece – unbiased and packed with really useful info.

    Another little nugget – the wonderful Truphone Team also provide VoIP over WiFi too – so when I am in ‘WiFi Only’ locations I can still make and receive calls!

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