I have been asked multiple times how I was getting service in the depths of the hospital.
I used to have problems getting proper phone service in the lecture hall of my medical school, on wards, or even in my own home. I had WiFi in all of these places and thought if I could stream video, I certainly should be able to send and receive a voice signal. That's when I found a startup that was trailblazing WiFi calling, which used wireless internet as a means to transmit phone calls instead of cell phone towers, which addresses the low bar problem common to all places with thick walls or in the basement (of home, the hospital, the lecture hall, the lab and radiology, etc.).
Since this startup company blazed the WiFi calling trail, the four major carriers (Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon) have followed suit, offering WiFi calling on select models. For example, the iPhone 5c or later iPhone models can do WiFi calling if on a supported carrier.
Not only are the big four carriers realizing the benefit of routing calls through the Internet instead of limited radio bandwidth. Google is in the game, too. Its project, “Project Fi” and the newer Nexus phones get you $20 per month of unlimited talk, text and WiFi data, with $10 per GB cell phone data used for times when you aren't near WiFi. While that seems like a lot better deal than much of what the big four can offer, there is something that I found that works even better for me. That is Republic Wireless, that startup that trail blazed WiFi calling (with cellular backup).
When I first started with Republic Wireless during its very early "beta" stages almost four years ago, I was a poor medical student trying to scrimp and save every penny. They offered "hybrid" calling, relying heavily on WiFi but contracting with Sprint as a cell phone carrier for when I wasn't around wireless internet. I was impressed to receive texts over WiFi in the lecture hall, which was a black hole for cell signal. Other classmates would run out to hold their phone near a window or door in between lectures to get a stream of texts that they had missed from not having any bars of signal. I also loved not having to sit in the "cell phone seat" at home when on a call, since my apartment had poor signal except in one particular area of the house. The drawback was that whenever I stepped away from a WiFi signal, my call would drop and automatically redial. But that was during the beta testing.
Fast forward four years and two phones later, now Republic Wireless has upgraded, and the transition from WiFi to cell or cell to WiFi has become seamless. Now, the only drawback is you have to specifically buy their phone. The neutral points are their customer service (typical), and they contract with Sprint and T-Mobile (so theoretically, there are places without either WiFi or cellular signal).
The ubiquity of signal everywhere I go, the lack of monthly access fees, and no contracts are all nice. But the biggest benefit is the price. The plan I have gives me 1GB cell phone data and unlimited talk, text, and WiFi data for $20 a month. Plus, when I anticipate I won't be on trusted WiFi networks for an extended period of time (like on vacations), then I can just buy more data and go back to the $20 the next month. With my second Republic Wireless phone that lasted two years, I spent literally over a thousand dollars less than my wife did on her big-name carrier plan with her supposedly "free" smartphone. She finally made the switch, and we are both happy customers.
*Of note, Republic Wireless for this article is not compensating me. I am writing this because I have been asked multiple times how I get signal in the basement, or how I only pay $20 and change on my phone bill despite not having a flip phone.
For more ideas on how to save, check out Future Proof, MD's article.