One of the annoying things about looking at your end of year accounts is that you get to see how much you spent in totally absurd categories over the course of the year. One of the things that ticks me off is the egregious amounts I’ve paid for phone services over 2004. Moving out here, I chose what I thought was a completely reasonable cell phone plan, which would cover my minimal daytime usage and unlimited weekends and nights.
My plan was to have my phone consist of approximately $50 per month. I can tell you now, it was a lost cause. Unlike Europe, in Canada you also pay “minutes” for incoming calls, not just outgoing, so any call I received also started ticking off against my call plan. Additionally, free services like a voicemail box and call display were not included in my plan which “nickel and dimed” me another $10 bucks every month. And there is some absurd “network access fee” (how precisely am I supposed to use a mobile phone network without accessing it ??? This is why oligopolies are evil) of $15 per month that you must also agree to to use the plan.
All this meant that my minimum cell phone plan was $50 per month, and then long distance fees started which, are also quite egregious. So, despite best efforts, even changing the call plan to minimize monthly fees, and with the absurdly low number of calls I would get every month (quite seriously 1 or 2 long calls and the rest would be text messages), my bills were running into the high $100+ every month. Which is absurd, because I really don't use the mobile that much.
So, this is my plan to get my monthly phone expenses down to a sane $50 per month (in my opinion, my cell phone should not cost more than my commercial web hosting or broadband internet access) :
Use Skype More
I can’t recommend this program highly enough. I use it all the time and the call quality is consistent calling Vancouver or Cyprus. They just released a new beta for the Mac this morning (it works on Win, Lin and Mac) which even allows conference calling between parties. And the sound quality is amazing. The SkypeOut service allows calling phones directly. Also, for international calls the costs are much, much lower per minute than either cell phones or traditional land lines. You can call anyone in Western Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand for €0.017 (yes, 1.7 cents) per minute (calling mobiles is a higher rate by country but land line calls are dead cheap). Sad thing right now is that it can’t receive calls though (voice mail and a fixed Skype number would be sooooo great). I have to pay for broadband internet access anyway, I might as well take advantage of subsidized VoIP calls. I put €10 on Skype in October, have used it extensively, and still have €1.18 left (part of why I'm so incensed at the cell phone costs) There is a great article on using Skype on the Mac article if you're interested (part 1, part 2). And if you do have Mac OSX, there is a great little Applescript for dialing directly from your addressbook contacts which is very handy. Skype also has instant messaging and file transfer capabilities though I find I prefer my other IM client, AdiumX for that. Get a pay-as-you-go cell phone
Weirdly, these are still expensive out where I am. When I mentioned the fact that another provider in Toronto had charged me half as much I got a sniffy customer service rep who stated that it was more expensive because we were so remote (*cough*). Anyhow, at a price of $0.33 per minute and $0.58 long distance (in Canada) and no international outgoing calls, it is more expensive per minute than a subscription phone but not too bad. Looking at my calling patterns it seems most calls I get are during hours when the company gets to charge me extra for those minutes. Furthermore, voice mail is included free and call display which is added to a normal bill and costs $10 currently. Remove the network access fee of $15 monthly as well and I’m already $25 a month better off. $50 to activate the SIM card (twice as much as it cost in Toronto or Europe and no minutes added on), but I figure that will pay itself back in 2 months just from the network access and voice mail/call display features.
Anyhow, that is the current plan. I'll be disconnecting my regular cell phone service shortly and I'll keep people posted in terms of how I'm tracking financially compared to last year as well as any user issues in terms of convenience compared to having a subscription service.
And other extreme tech note. I was reading the other day about the rapidly dropping cost of implementing all the VoIP, PBX and other systems required to become your own teleco as many business probably need to do when setting up or trying to reduce costs for their telecommunications. It's unreal how cheaply open source software is dropping the costs of comms in this area, especially with regard to VoIP. There is a nice blog posting on Asterisk, the open source PBX and VoIP system. Basically, install a complete telecomms system for less than $6000 USD. Beats the hell out of the 75,000 € I saw a small company pay in France to get a small PBX system.
And while on the subject, been doing a lot of fiddling with OpenVPN as well, an SSL VPN system which is amazingly flexible for road warriors versus IPSEC, CIPE or PPTP based alternatives. Very interesting. At an organization I used to be at, an influential sysadmin managed to push through a hardware based CIPE (moving to IPSEC) solution (500+ € per connection ie. office or homeworker/road warrior that IMHO was not very scalable or ruinously costly to provide remote access to mobile activists on the road (though fine for offices). Why go for hardwarer when you can do it in software though ? An SSL based VPN would have been the way to go in my opinion. OpenVPN is quite promising.