Life without a cell connection

For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to minimize my cell phone
usage. My thought was that we’re surrounded by wifi in most urban areas,
so who needs a cell network? I find paying $420/year to Virgin Mobile for
the 3G connectivity plus artificial limits on my usage is just silly. I
like the Republic Wireless model of
switching between 3G and wifi. However, even this model has artificial
limits for no real reason, other than to make money. The people who run
Republic Wireless,, know full well the cost of Internet
bandwidth is nearly zero per megabit. The cost of maintaining the ‘last
mile’ connectivity is mixed between Sprint’s reseller network (same one
that Virgin Mobile uses) and you (as you maintain the wifi connectivity
to your ISP).

On December 1, I switched my actual mobile phone in airplane mode all
the time. I then enabled wifi on the phone. The reality of this setup
means I cannot use the phone for native calls and text messaging. However,
everything else works fine. I’ve been using a mix of VOIP/SIP clients and
Skype to handle all of the calls. If either of these could do SMS/text
messaging with the public phone networks, I wouldn’t need a mobile phone
at all.

When I was in Hong Kong, this method worked well. Hong Kong has government
provided wifi that bathes the city in 802.11g (54 mbps) access anywhere
you go. Sure it’s censored, but for voip, skype and other basic things,
it works fantastically well. Paying $30/mo for unlimited global phone
access is awesome. Having your same number work globally was great. Not
paying crazy call charges because of my location was even better.

My house has wifi, the office has wifi, and there are lots of wifi
spots in between. What it has meant is that calls/text work fine when
I’m stationary. I ignore the mobile when I’m driving, or out biking,
or basically doing anything where there is likely no wifi network anyway.
I’ve found a surprising number of open wifi networks when sitting in
traffic, or leaving the phone on wifi network mapping mode. Connecting to
these open networks can be risky, but with ssh, tor, and vpns, you can
at least more securely transport your data. I assume all free wifi is
recording everything. It’s great to be able to connect to an open wifi,
check voicemail and send/receive some text messages, instant messages,
and emails while sitting at a red light or in stopped traffic.

The largest frustration has been Android itself. It’s like a
proto-operating system with just enough functionality to make you think
it can replace a normal laptop or desktop operating system. I may
get an old Nokia N810
or Nokia N9
which can run Maemo or
Debian, and use a real OS for simple things
like copy and paste, ssh server keys, and other things.

One cost of this is that I’m not reachable within seconds. Missing
text/calls about changes in plans and other things has caused some minor
issues. In all cases, these issues are [first world
problems]( I’ve
been looking into some sort of car computer. If I could get wifi working
in the car automatically, then I really don’t need a cell connection. I
can easily carry on a conversation or do voice-to-text or text-to-voice
translations while driving. Fumbling around with a device while trying to
drive is just too dangerous for me. This is doubly so on the motorcycle,
where frankly, not being reachable is probably safer. Calls/text will
just interrupt my concentration, and since everyone else is trying to
kill me on the bike anyway, adding vastly more risk for more reachability
is probably a poor trade-off.

Frankly, none of this works the I want it to work. Forcing a mobile phone
or computing usage model on cars is just backwards. Human centric design
and operation is probably the smarter way forward. This is probably
worthy of another post.

Overall, my wifi-only experiment has required some adjustment on my part,
but otherwise works well. I’m pondering going into month two of the
experiment by actually expiring my Virgin Mobile account and doing it
in a forced manner. If I could migrate my current personal phone #
over to a VOIP service, it might be worth it.

originally published at

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