Running a smartphone for $10 a month

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With a little discipline, decent access to Wi-Fi and an aversion to talking, it’s possible to run a smartphone for $10 a month.

A relative has managed to do this for several years.

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One of the big conditions: you have to own your phone, versus having a contract phone. On a contract, you’ll be required to buy higher-cost plans in order to cover the cost of the phone.

She has a pay-as-you-go plan with Virgin Mobile with a 100 MB a month data add-on that costs $10. There’s Wi-Fi at home, at work and at her favourite coffee shop. Plus, she has access to Shaw Go Wi-Fi in many public and semi-public places around Greater Victoria.

That’s enough to keep her connected at around 90% of the places she goes. For the remaining 10%, like riding the bus, the Virgin data plan kicks in.

For texting, she mostly uses Apple’s iMessage service, which goes across the Internet at no extra cost, rather than phone company texting systems. Almost everyone she texts uses iMessage.

But extra costs do get sprinkled in. A phone call is 30 cents a minute, a text outside iMessage is 15 cents. If she goes over 100 MB, it’s 15 cents per MB.

So she avoids voice calls, which is fine, because she much prefers texting to talking. At month-end, she often has 10 or 20 MB of data left.

Her monthly cost is usually just $10, with an occasional month that costs $12 to $15.

Except for February, when her 100 MB data plan mysteriously ran out on Day 7, and her cost for the month ended up at around $25 because of extra data charges. Her usage patterns did not change that month, so Virgin was asked for an explanation, which wasn’t supplied, apart from a canned answer about how data can be used up rapidly if you watch a video or download apps. Billing details are not readily available when a customer signs in online in search of how the charges were calculated; that’s a characteristic of the pay-as-you-go plans, a Virgin rep said without further explanation. So, that’s a danger with this approach.

After three trouble-free years, but one troublesome month, she now turns off wireless data whenever there’s a Wi-Fi signal and keeps an eye on the iPhone’s data usage counter.

I wouldn't be able to use this approach, because I talk.

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Shaw offers password-protected Wi-Fi at many public places in Greater Victoria as part of the home Internet plans it sells. You can either sign in each time with your Shaw email name and password, or automate things by going into your Shaw account online and filling in a form with the Wi-Fi ID or MAC address for the devices that you want to authorize. When you do that, authorized devices will automatically connect in Shaw Go Wi-Fi zones.

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