ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON NOVEMBER 17, 2009 (on a blog hosting site that's not very friendly about exporting their data)
Call me old school. After repeatedly having more minutes than I can use in a year, much less in a month, I still try to conserve minutes on my cell phone plan as if they cost $0.35/each. (When I started using cell phones that's what they cost.)
Neurotic, I know, but I can't help it – so instead I'm trying to embrace it.
During the next few months, with the help of a few key tools that I'll outline below, I'm going on a quest - a personal jihad, if you will - for the Zero Minute Month. From a practical standpoint it may be impossible for me to get all the way there but I'm betting that I can get my monthly minutes down to under, say, 200 anytime minutes. The point is to demonstrate how, with a little care and the aid of some cool new technology, anyone can reduce their monthly cell phone minutes to a point so low that you could choose the cheapest possible plan and still have minutes left over.
There are three key tools I'm using in this experiment. Each of them is designed to help me do two very simple things
- Determine whether or not a call that I'm going to make from my cell phone will be to another AT&Twireless user, thus making the call free thanks to free "mobile-to-mobile" calling on their system.
- If the call isn't going to be to another AT&T wireless user these tools will then help me make my call through another mechanism without the minutes being charged against my "anytime" minutes on my cell phone plan.
- AT&T's new "A-List" feature. This is available to anyone using a postpaid ("regular") account with AT&T Wireless. It allows you to create a list of numbers, either landline or wireless, that you can make calls to and receive calls from without the minutes coming out of your "anytime" minutes in your plan. It's not restricted by carrier or location nor does it have to be a wireless phone number, as long as it's a U.S.-based phone number. Make a call to one of those numbers on July 1 and talk continuously until July 31 and not a single minute will be deducted from your plan.
- TextPower's "lookup" function which allows people to send a quick text message to determine which carrier serves a particular number and, in fact, whether it's a cell phone at all. Simply text the word "lookup" followed by any phone number to 81888 and you'll receive a message back almost immediately telling you whether or not the number is a cell phone and which carrier services it. (Full disclosure here: this service is provided free by TextPower, in which I'm a partner and the CEO.)
- Google Voice - If you don't already have an invitation to this "beta" service from Google see if you can get one (I've got a couple of them). This service gives you a phone number and allows you to set up where that number will ring, whether it goes directly to voicemail, etc. But it does more than just turn its phone number into a virtual voicemail and transcription service, it lets you make and receive calls through its number for free. And it's unlimited. Anywhere in the U.S. For FREE. (Did I mention that it's FREE?)
Google Voice is the hottest service available today and once you try it you'll be pretty well hooked - it provides a way to manage multiple telephone numbers through one central number. And, it lets you make calls from your landline phone or cell phone to any other number for free.
Next, I'm taking a moment before making phone calls to determine whether or not someone is using an AT&T wireless phone - if they are, my call won't count against my anytime minutes so no further action is needed - I just proceed normally and make the call. (At that point, though, if they are in my address book I do change their label from "Mobile" to "AT&T Wireless" so that I know that it's a free call to me from then on.)
To determine whether someone is using an AT&T wireless phone I use the TextPower lookup function by just texting "lookup 9876543210" to 81888 (replacing 9876543210 with the correct phone number). Within a few seconds - depending on network loading - I'll know whether or not that number is on AT&T Wireless or not.
As I said, if someone is on AT&T Wireless I just go ahead and make the call. If not, I call my Google Voice number instead - I've got a speed dial set up for it (well, it's actually called a "Favorite" on the iPhone, but you get the idea) that includes my PIN and automatically entering the option (press "2") to make a call. When Google Voice tells me it's ready to place the call I enter the number and hit #. It makes the call for me and I'm connected to whoever I want with a U.S. number and the minutes don't count against my anytime minutes.
Google Voice also allows you to initiate a call from their web site by entering the number you want to call and selecting which of your phones you want the call connected to.
I used to give out my mobile number to everyone, including putting it in my email signature, but don't do that anymore. Now I give people my Google Voice number which guarantees that when the call forwards to my mobile number it'll be free. I also get the extra benefits that the service offers including transcription of voicemail messages (it's uncannily accurate) and the ability to screen inbound calls, break in when someone is leaving a voicemail message, record a call, etc.
Look, this isn't about the $20/month I'm going to save by reducing my wireless minute plan to a lower tier - it's about the challenge and teaching others how to use technology to save minutes and money. Also, TextPower developed the text messaging lookup service to demonstrate how we can take a really complex series of commands and a massive database search (the lookup function checks the national wireless database of >250 million numbers) and distill it down to a simple text message command. I'm not sure we'll ever make money on that but it's a great demo of our capabilities.
So let the quest begin. I'll keep you posted.