In the month of June my family spent over $150 on our wireless bill with AT&T, granted that it includes two iPhone plans, including the data plan offered (and required) for iPhones by AT&T Wireless. Adding a stack of federal and state taxes and recovery fees, the bill often ends up being even higher; having had enough of the greed and the high bills demanded by AT&T (and any other wireless provider for that matter), I have taken the steps to pursue other ways to communicate with the world...and here is how you can do it too for only a fraction of your average cell-phone bill.
The first thing you need to realize is that you cannot pursue saving money on your cell-phone bill without some adjustment in your lifestyle paradigm. You need to make some sacrifices in how you receive and take calls on your mobile phone; for example, do you absolutely HAVE to answer your mobile phone when you are driving in your car to and from work? My personal answer is, no, but your circumstances may be different than mine. That answer determined some of the steps I've taken towards saving money, and here are my recommendations on saving some serious dough when it comes to your cell phone and communications:
1. First, you need to cancel your expensive monthly plans you have with companies like Verizon or AT&T and switch from an expensive contract to a pre-paid monthly plan. Most companies offer prepaid plans which allow you to pay per-minute or per-day. Most people never use all the minutes they signup for each month and they end up paying for unused services; for example, under the AT&T iPhone plan, I am spending as much as 16 cents per minute while under a prepaid plan I am only paying 10 cents per minute, and that is only when I use them, of course.
As the new iPhone 4 just came out, you could scour Ebay for a lot of good deals on used iPhone 3G and 3Gs, which is all you need for a decent communication device. You will also need to purchase a new pre-paid AT&T sim card (sold under the "AT&T Go Phone" brand); this card will go into your iPhone and will allow you to signup for pre-paid service with AT&T. Once you receive the SIM card, simply go to AT&T's go phone website and signup for the pre-paid plan you desire; you will be asked for the serial number of the sim card and the IMEI number of your phone. When you are asked for your telephone's IMEI number, make sure you do not provide your real iPhone IMEI number as AT&T will not allow you to signup for service. You can however enter any IMEI number into the website, for example, 350077-52-323751-3 will probably work just fine.
Once you purchase and pay for minutes, AT&T will assign you a number and your service on the iPhone will be enabled. You can dial #777* on your iPhone to find out the remaining balance on your card.
One thing to be aware of is that AT&T will expire your unused minutes depending on how many you buy at a time. If you purchase $25 worth of minutes, they will expire in 3 months. If you purchase $100, they will expire within a year.
2. The second step is to signup for Google Voice. Google Voice is a free service offered by Google, which assigns you a local telephone number that you can give out, without having to hand out your "real" number to everyone out there. You can use Google Voice to forward calls to the pre-paid number assigned by AT&T, and ring all your numbers at once, screen out unwanted callers and setup schedules to manage your inbound calls as you wish. So you can signup for a Google Voice account which will allow you to use one local number and forward calls to any phone or other internet-based voice provider like Skype or Sipgate.
3. The last step is to signup for Skype or another SIP provider like Sipgate.com to make as many calls as possible through their services (Skype has a free client for the iPhone that you can download in the App Store, as well as free clients for Windows and Apple computers). For example, you can signup for an unlimited call plan with Skype for $2.99 per month, allowing you to make unlimited calls to U.S. and Canada. For an additional $30 per year you can get a Skype-in telephone number, which is a local number provided by Skype, allowing you to receive calls straight to Skype from any telephone number in the world. Sipgate.com offers 120 minutes free each month and they do not charge anything for signing up for service, although they will most likely assign you a San Francisco number by default. Better yet, you can use Google Voice to ring your Skype-in number, Sipgate.com number and your AT&T pre-paid number all at the same time! This gives you the flexibility to choose to answer an inbound call on any network you choose or you think is the cheapest at the time.
The best thing about owning an iPhone that you are using with a prepaid account is that you can also choose to not take a call at that time (unless it's an emergency), and wait until you are in a Starbucks down the street to return the call through Skype without having to use your prepaid minutes.
In my own situation this works out very well as my job requires me to be in front of a computer most of the day. When someone calls my main number, which is a Google Voice number, my AT&T pre-paid iPhone rings and my Skype client running on my computer will also ring. I almost always answer incoming calls on my computer, unless I am out and about expecting an important call. If I want to make a call, virtually every time I can wait until I am in a place with free Wi-Fi (at a store, restaurant or at home) where I can use Skype on my iPhone, or I can use pre-paid minutes at 10 cents per minute if I absolutely have to.
The steps I outlined here bring the costs down from about $150 per month to just a few dollars per month, savings which are well-worth pursuing by a cost-conscious person. Perhaps this post can be a motivator for you as well to pursue savings and find new ways to keep your money in your own pocket rather than handing it out to telecommunication companies charging ever higher rates and higher taxes put in place by government bureaucrats.
If you want to ask questions about my plans, please feel free to post comments below; I would be happy to answer them.