International Cell Phone
Hack - no cell phone
minutes or texts bill, just
US and Bahamas
hack with Google
I'm not nearly educated, let alone a guru, on the subject of exploiting cell
phones and internet
It appears that we are able to take advantage of Google
Voice' ability to
ring many phone
numbers, and act as a transfer point. The end result is
that my cell phone (on which more, anon) rings in the Bahamas
as my local
(US) number. Here's how:
I'd been a Vonage customer for MANY years, and it used to work
through our WiFi
adapter. One particular feature we liked (aside from having
my phone ring aboard whenever I had the bandwidth to support it, allowing
multiple-handset conversations with friends and family
, on the same number I
have had for over 40 years, thanks to LNP) was that we could get phone calls
any place we had WiFi
connectivity, and the caller would be dialing a
regular US number.
However, apparently, based on an extensive 'chat' with their techies,
they've changed their setups so that WiFi, regardless of bandwidth, is not
adequate to the task of transparent, no-lag/no-cutout connectivity, instead,
now, requiring a DSL or Cable connection. They promise a Wi-Fi friendly
router in the future, but we're in the now. It doesn't work
as it is. So,
the search for alternatives was on.
We arrived in the Bahamas in Spring 2015, and, having the wind
up our backs
from fellow cruisers who said that Wi-Fi connections were scarce without
being pay sites, and, depending on which one, not very good and pretty
expensive, we went looking for a hotspot phone - one which would use data
only. After looking over what we wanted at the Marsh Harbour Batelco (the
Bahamas monopoly phone service), we selected an inexpensive Samsung Galaxy.
Once in operation, we found that bandwidth was so good on that data-only
hotspot phone - at a net price
very nearly that of Vonage's monthly
charges - that we nearly always wound up using it for our internet
connectivity on our first trip to the Bahamas last summer. That included all
the usual suspects - laptops and my built-in computer - but also the
admiral's US smartphone for Facetime (which is considered data, and may be
available only between other ATT customers - which her kids
are). We could not use it for voice-only; for that we used Skype, whether
in-house (to computer) or to landline numbers, at the small per-minute costs
to do so.
However, we still need to be able to have folks call us, which doesn't work
on Skype unless we're up/online and the other party is, as well. Google
Voice has the same functionalities, but we've not used it much, as it's just
another Skype in that regard, and we didn't have a money
account set up with
Google, let alone having to rely on someone being on the computer at the
time we might have wanted to reach them.
However, there are 'hangouts' - like a voice call, including conference
calls - which work on GV. In mucking around with my son, we confirmed that a
non-active (not connected to any cell provider) smartphone, if using the
hangout app, would make and receive calls and texts to 'normal' numbers, so
long as it had internet connectivity (smartphones usually can use WiFi
instead of a cell network; apparently that's so whether the phone is
actually ever used as a cell phone).
The data phone could have a hangout app, with its number set to ring
from GV, to which I'd LNP my original number.
(My case is unusual. I had a number I'd used for most of my life. Google
Voice will only accept LNP - local number portability - porting of cellular
numbers. So, I had to port my number from Vonage - a process which took
weeks longer than it should have - to a cell phone before I could port it up
to Google. Once in my cell phone, that port went smoothly and was finished
a day later. They charge you $20 for that porting process, giving you your
chosen number as what Google Voice 'sees' when someone calls you. You can
get an assigned number free.)
So, the way it works is any device you have on which you've opened Google
Hangouts (and signed into the account you want, if you have more than one)
will ring if someone calls your Google Voice number. It could be your
, your computer, or your data phone. Google Voice also allows
multi-ring, for when you might need to have more than one person get calls.
So, when we're in the states, it would ring both the admiral and my cell
phones, and, perhaps, if we were ashore somewhere for an extended period,
our hosts' phone. As the hangout would be a data, not voice, call, the fact
that we are in the Bahamas does not impact the end result (any more than it
did for Vonage) if the US number assigned to that phone was someplace ex-USA
at the time of the call. In the end, it behaves as a cell phone, but uses
either your provider's bandwidth chip or a WiFi hotspot's bandwidth to
complete the connection, and it doesn't care where it is that the bandwidth
Ergo, Bahamas, the Caribbean
, etc., all behave as though it was a US cell
phone ringing wherever you are. In our case, it's a GSM bands phone, as
used in most of the world...
What we bought was a supposedly-unlocked Samsung Galaxy J1 GSM. We are in
the Bahamas as I write this, and will take up the matter with the local BTC
office, but it WASN'T unlocked. Do not believe them. If you have a
Micro chip from a US provider, you can demonstrate that it won't work while
you're there. If you already HAVE one of those phones, you can get it
unlocked at a variety of sites on the internet, but my particular model,
for Batelco, required two false starts before the third time was a
charm. Instead, if you're starting before you get there (or any other
foreign country!), buy some other unlocked smartphone, and go from there.
When you get to the Bahamas, a visit to the local BTC office can get you on
a data program quickly and cheaply. For example, our plan is 5 gigabytes
per month, at $40, billed monthly in arrears. If you overrun, it's $10/G
extra, limit 5. There are larger and smaller plans available at lesser and
greater costs, but we never overran our limit, despite having used it
heavily (no streaming, though - just internet and emails).
Now, here we are in the Bahamas, and I just got off a half-hour phone call
with my mother-in-law. From the above, you'd have expected that. But what
about the time you need to call the local auto parts
retailer to ask about
something? Many cruisers use a cheap
flip-phone with the ubiquitous money
card-supplied minutes and text. Each purchase
, at whatever money level
keeps that number alive for 90 days, or until the money runs out, whichever
comes first. BTC minutes and texts are expensive compared to US plans.
AND, if you let it lapse, the longest they will keep the number open is 90
days. Thus, if you're out for an extended period of time, your number will
be dead. That's not the end of the world, but a new sim (and number) will
cost you $10 each time, along with even as little as $5 of time/texts. You
also have to be at an open BTC office. If you're sailing into the Bahamas,
likely you'll have cell service
long before you actually go ashore, rather
than the delay of having cleared Customs
and Immigration, and finding an
open office (for example, they're open Thursday - only - in Green Turtle
Cay). We were online before we even actually entered the territorial waters
(we had our sim from our earlier trip installed when we left the US).
As the number of times and length of conversations was not very much in our
usage, it made a great deal more sense (for our purpose) to make those local
Bahamian calls part of our data usage, on Google Voice/Hangouts. Google
Voice charges for non-USA calls, at varying rates. In the case of the
Bahamas, it was 10 and 22 cents per minute to land line and mobile phones,
respectively. That's not far off of what BTC charges, and doesn't involve
chasing sim cards or topping up money cards before they expire. Like Skype,
you make a small money purchase
, and your calls are charged against that.
Thus, after I'd started my account with $10, when I called the NAPA (auto
supplier) store, I saw at the top of my screen
$0.10 per minute. The call
completed as any other would, and I determined that they had what I needed.
It cost me all of $0.20 - and it might possibly be the only call I make on
this trip - yet, I was able to do it with the same phone...
Voice mail is by Google, and has voice recognition software
which will send
you an email
transcript of any message left. You can also do SMS texting
between phones, either by the quick-thumb method, or with the microphone
function allowing you to dictate what it is you wish to text. Until you
train it, you may have to make corrections, but it beats banging away with
All in all, for the price
of a data plan, we get all the advantages of a
cell phone but it's really a hotspot. Or, it's somebody else (like the
restaurant, or whatever you're visiting, including someone else's home - or
yours, of course - where you have WiFi access) providing the bandwidth.
Either way, you have an internationally reachable US number at no
(international - if they have a minutes plan, those minutes are the same as
to any other phone) cost to the caller, SMS messaging, ditto, and access, if
you want it, to the internet.
We like it...
SV Flying Pig KI4MPC
See our galleries at Web-Folio -- Your Portfolio on the Web
Follow us at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TheFlyingPigLog
"Believe me, my young friend, there is *nothing*-absolutely nothing-half so
much worth doing as simply messing, messing-about-in-boats; messing about in
boats-or *with* boats.
In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's
the charm of it.
Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your
or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get
anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in
particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and
you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not."