I played around with VOIP on phones last night.  Turns out its painful to find the info, then surprisingly simple once the ball gets rolling.

One does not just simply “install” Google Voice.  You can install it, but you also need a phone line and number.  I’m pretty sure that’s to keep the carriers happy, plus, if you have a bad wifi network, the calls are TERRIBLE (as I later discover).

I tried a few things: Skype, Viber, etc.  They all “work”, but what I really want is GV fronting my phone number, with text coming in and out seamlessly.

Turns out, there’s an app for that.  GrooVe IP lets you connect to and use GV from your wifi phone (or other device, I assume).  I was hesitant to install it at first, as it looks pretty hacky.  I kind of want to donate some graphic design time to these people.  However, its pretty fantastic.  Install, hook up GV, and you’re pretty much ready to go.  Calls out go over GV, calls in (apparently) go over Google Talk.  I was worried that calls in wouldn’t ring like normal, but that turned out to be fine.  I had to turn the mic gain up to -1, from -2, but after that, fantastic.

The real surprise?  Texts coming on my email.  The phone calls are a compromise, but texts into (and out of) my email is WHAT I WANT ON A NORMAL PHONE PLAN!  Text messaging has baffled me for the last few years.  I don’t understand why people still do it. Your email works better, at least Gmail on Android does, and there’s no (reasonable) size limit.  Plus, you can more easily manage contacts, and you can view it on the desktop later.  That, and you don’t get charged extra for it (if all texting was free, the carriers would pretty soon drop it, I imagine).

Anyway, love it.

I also learned something interesting the made me even more anti-Verizon.  I called my regular phone from the wifi phone.  Its an open secret that the voicemail greeting is designed to suck up time and boost minute usage.  Some seem to debate this, but Verizon pretty much confirmed it.  How?  One of the options listed is to fax.  Yeah, fax.  Press a button, and fax me.  Questions: 1) Who would want to? 2) How would you enter a fax? 3) How could I possibly get that fax?  Some day, when I’m bored, I’m going to try and figure that out.  Not today, though.  Anyway…

I picked up a new clear hotspot.  $50.  It looks pretty cool.  I signed up for the $35 plan, which gives 1.5 down, .5 up.  While slow by today’s standards, that’s enough for my needs.  I tried making some calls on the street.  First call was bad.  Next few calls were fine.  You kind of need to stand in the right place, and don’t walk, but once you do, its good.  I’m not much of a walk-and-talk kind of guy, though, so not a big deal.  Data works fine.

The downside, obviously, is now I have another device to charge and carry.  The upside, if I have a tablet, or need access for my laptop, no problem.  In all, its a pretty sweet deal.  Pleasant surprise, the cardio area of my gym gets full reception.  I can watch stuff on the Kindle Fire, and Nexus 7 when it gets here (please ship immediately), while I play hamster on a wheel.  I don’t think the weight lifting area gets reception, though, so I’ll have to download all the metal tunes to angry-lift to.

Negative of clear.  If you leave the city, you’re sunk.  Guess I’m not going to Long Island.

So, calls on the street in a pinch work fine.  I found out, however, that calls inside are hit and miss.  I work out of New Work City, which is great, but the wifi can periodically get swamped, which would be rough on a call.  That should soon be rectified with new service, but today, you need to be careful with the VOIP.  Had a conference call that was totally fine.  Then called somebody later and it was bad.  Switched to a different wifi, and it was fine again.  That’s troubling.  I’m not so concerned about the personal calls, but the business calls creates a problem if they don’t work reliably.

At home I have FIOS, which is also Verizon, but I honestly can’t say a bad word about that. I ditched the FIOS cable recently, though.  Plenty of bad words were uttered with FIOS TV ;)

Tip for GrooVe IP.  The Lite version works fine, but has ads, which get in the way a bit.  Can’t blame them for that.  However, when you put the phone to your face, the screen stays on.  The full version is $5, and the screen turns off like the normal dialer.  I’d suggest just buying the app.  Its TOTALLY worth it, if you’re trying to do VOIP.

That was my summary for day 2, until I saw something just now that kind of took the wind out of my sails.  The whole idea here is I want a data-only plan, and I’m a little sick of the weird expensive deals the carriers force on you.  I was looking at t-mobile for what plan I’d probably wind up on after I got sick of walking around with the hot spot.  Turns out, t-mobile has a $30 plan that only has 100 minutes of talk, but “unlimited” internet.  5Gig on 4G(ish), then throttled down to 2G (edge, I assume).  I don’t know how I didn’t see that before, but it basically hits all the bases.

1) Make as many calls over VOIP as possible while in good wifi.

2) Street VOIP calls on data plan.

3) If a critical business call, or if VOIP is flakey, use the regular phone.

4) If VOIP turns out to be flakey too often, just double it to $60 for unlimited minutes and 2Gig of data (I’m pretty good with the data usage)

That $30 plan is just a pinch shy of data-only.  Pretty sweet.

To be clear, this whole test isn’t really about money.  For me, anyway.  I run a phone dev consulting business, so what we spend on hardware and whatnot is WAY more than an extra $20/$30 a month.  Just wanted to see what it would be like.  I still think I’m going to give it a whirl, but will probably pick up a sim card just in case so I can deploy the parachute just in case things go bad ;)

Also, I’m already hooked on the clear hot spot.  Regardless of what happens with t-mobile, I’ll probably hold onto that.

Summary.  The plan is to go data-only and cut the carrier cord in my own little protest that nobody will ever notice.  However, t-mobile is making it easy to not do that.  Seriously $30/month?  That’s crazy.  We do have a pile of t-mobile compatible phones, so I could probably test both the wifi only phone, and the $30 plan on different phones.

As I type that, I think that’s what I’ll do…