talkgroup

My communications array

I gave my Nexus One to Susan, so I was without a phone for the last week. Well, that isn’t accurate; I was without a handset device. Today I remedied that, so let me explain my setup.

The number on my contact page is a Google Voice number. I’ve had it since it was Grand Central, because back in the day I used to sign up for everything. Oh, so young and full of energy back then! Anyhow, the reason I freely give out my number is because I am normally identified as male, which unfairly cuts out most of the creeps on the web from calling me, and also because the service treats phone calls like any type of messaging, which includes being able to block people and mark them as spam, etc. Pretty neat stuff, actually.

When I bought the tablet I sent out a message to my contacts that my number had changed. I gave them my GV number instead of the assigned number from T-Mobile. I was hesitant about this at first, because I don’t like giving Google any personal information. However, I can say the same thing of T-Mobile. I don’t trust Google, but I despise T-Mobile and all the major mobile carriers. But I will get to that in a later post.

It turns out that the decision worked out well, since now I could text with people from my phone, tablet or any web browser. Calls I get to the GV number are automatically routed to my phone. That almost doesn’t matter, since I hardly make or take calls except from three people (Jason, after each good episode of Naruto or Bleach, Kevin, while he is driving around for work, or I am walking to pie, and Susan, because she is awesome).

The important thing for me was having the data plan on our phones, and being able to connect my tablet to my N1 but making it a wireless access point. An interesting side note, when the manager of the local T-Mobile store asked me why I didn’t buy a data plan with the tablet, I told him I connected it to my phone. He asked me if that still worked, because I should get a message that says I need to buy a new plan. I blinked at him; it is obvious that he doesn’t understand what is happening in his industry. It was nice to leave the tablet home sometimes, like when I walked to the corner store and wanted to read my feeds while in line, it was just easier to carry. But for the most part I very rarely leave the house without the tablet (which is a Galaxy Tab, the 7-inch version, which is the perfect size for me).

So, when I no longer had the N1, my configuration had to change a little. Putting my SIM card into the tablet lets me send and receive text messages to the number, but I can’t connect to the data network. I’ve gotten all kinds of half-assed excuses as to why that is, including a line of reasoning that went all the way up to the government not allowing tablets to use the same frequencies as smart phones. Okay, whatever. The point is, I could make calls except through a web browser, and I couldn’t connect to the internet on the tablet while abroad (without wifi).

Not being in a contract means we pay full price for our devices, but it also means that we can move our plan options around with a minimal amount of fuss. Susan and I are on a family plan with shared minutes, text and data. So I turned off the data on our plan, leaving just voice and text. Then I turned on data just on her line, and bought the cheapest Nokia (2330) they had for my voice line. So, I can make calls on a dedicated device, and I need to charge it about once a week.

After that was taken care of, I bought the data plan they sell for the tablet, which is $40 a month (they have a cheaper one for $25, but it is capped at only 200MB, and I know I go past that each month). Now my tablet is on the network wherever I go, including the Transbay Tube. Really, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a signal (except my house, for some reason, but I have wifi here).

All in all, our monthly bill goes up about $15, and we will probably cancel that out when we drop the text portion or our plan, after a Google Voice trial for Susan, to make sure it works well enough. Also, as soon as a stable ROM image is released for my tablet, I will flash it and try the smart phone data plan again, to see if it works. If it does, I will switch back to our shared plan with data.

I can do all this because of three primary circumstances:

  1. I am not dependent on voice communications for anything besides leisure, and even that is a marginal percentage of the communications I have with my tribe.
  2. We are not in a contract. I've been told that it would be more complicated, but still doable, if I were in a contract. I don't think so. I can add features and drop features without paying any fees (besides line activation, which is waived in my case [AAA discount]). Contracts are how the carriers screw over lower income customers.
  3. Phones are becoming more and more irrelevant to communicating. These network technologies are disruptive, and the monopoly that the carriers have over the cultural tendency is slipping.

My child will be able to talk to me anytime they want, and without needing the infrastructure the carriers own. We will have alternatives and open standards that change the way we route packets. In the meantime low-level employees will suggest that the government mandates they charge their customers differently for each class of device.

Time for them to join the publishing and music industry; adapt, or get out of the way.

So…

For Susan’s Nexus One, y’all pay for data, pay for calls, and pay for texts.

For your Galaxy Tab, y’all pay for data.

For your Nokia little phone, y’all pay for only calls (a plan with minutes I assume).

You get calls and texts through google voice, and text show up only on your Galaxy Tab (aka get sent to you as an email… how do you check it?). And you can choose whether to make calls through your phone or through google voice on your tab.

Is all that right?

I am on a contract with the entirety of my immediate family. We only have phone lines and dumb phones. I am the only one with a texting “plan” … everyone else has texts, but they have to pay 20 cents for every text that they send or receive. My “plan” allows me to send 200 texts a month for a flat $5/mo. Sigh. Texts are insanely useful to me because you can read them without diverting 100% of your attention away from something else, and they are logged so I don’t have to write down numbers or addresses or something, but they are not a part of the way the rest of my immediate family communicates… though they do use IM.

You know, it’s really fascinating to see how communication in my family has changed, or to see how quickly communication is changing while we are alive. Texts have definitely replaced voicemail. Microblogging has sort of replaced IMing. Blogs have replaced “writing letters to each other”, lol. I mean these are obviously glib statements that I’m not saying are 100% true… just tendencies.

For Susan’s Nexus One, y’all pay for data, pay for calls, and pay for texts.

For your Galaxy Tab, y’all pay for data.

For your Nokia little phone, y’all pay for only calls (a plan with minutes I assume).

Specifically, our plan look like this:

Family Plan with 750 minutes and unlimited texts. We have two lines on this plan, and the devices on them are a Nexus One and a Nokia 2330.

The N1 also has a data plan, which can be added to individual lines on the family plan.

Separately, my Galaxy Tab also has a data plan (which is different from the N1 data plan).

The cost are something like $70 (Family Plan) + $20 (N1 data) + $40 (Tab data). So our bill is around $130 a month, before they nickel and dime us on all kinds of taxes and stuff (also, I have insurance on the N1, which is like $6 a month or something).

You get calls and texts through google voice, and text show up only on your Galaxy Tab (aka get sent to you as an email… how do you check it?). And you can choose whether to make calls through your phone or through google voice on your tab.

I don’t have GV send me text messages or e-mail, I use its Android app. It is very similar to the default text messaging app in many Android distros (that is to say, different manufacturers include different apps for many of the basic functions in Android). If you haven’t used an Android device, then it may not be apparent, but the ability to send and receive SMS messages is open to other applications; with feature phones that will not really be the case.

Back to GV, just to be clear, I get text messages wherever I can check GV. When I was using the N1, my messages were synced between the Tab, the N1 and when I used the website. That should show why I was so into it, that is hot.

For an entirely non-technical reason, I can’t make GV calls from my Tab. Google plays it safe around the carriers, and my Tab is crippled in what it can do (for instance, the EU versions can make calls, but American models can not… unless you install a custom version of Android).

So, that is why I still have a phone device at all, to make outgoing calls (and, I guess, to receive them as well). I have GV forward to my phone, but I can have it forward to more than one phone as well. The point you should take from this is that everything we are used to with the phone system is arbitrary. Phone calls are like e-mail or XMPP, the end points don’t matter very much, unless there is money to be made.

Texts are insanely useful to me because you can read them without diverting 100% of your attention away from something else, and they are logged so I don’t have to write down numbers or addresses or something, but they are not a part of the way the rest of my immediate family communicates… though they do use IM.

Something that I think is technically awesome, but culturally dangerous, is how Google Mail/Talk/Voice integrate into Android. If you give yourself over to Google, you can have a really killer experience, where you can IM the same way you can text, and the UI is pretty seamless.

This is actually a point of contention for me, because the only decent XMPP client I’ve found for Android, Beem, really kills my battery. I don’t know enough about the tech behind it, but somehow GTalk is optimized for what I describe as “push” XMPP. It doesn’t need to stay constantly connected to the server, which is why the other XMPP clients are battery drains.

As an aside, I should make a list of the points of contention I have with Android! :slight_smile:

You know, it’s really fascinating to see how communication in my family has changed, or to see how quickly communication is changing while we are alive. Texts have definitely replaced voicemail. Microblogging has sort of replaced IMing. Blogs have replaced “writing letters to each other”, lol. I mean these are obviously glib statements that I’m not saying are 100% true… just tendencies.

It is cyclic. As new devices come and go, our workflows change the way we communicate. The thing to keep in mind is that we should always strive for open standards and protocols, so we aren’t stuck in a particular service when the winds of change come. We see it all the time with walled gardens on the web, but I would say we are also seeing it with the mobile carriers right now. Google is in this sweet spot where they make money in a way that carriers can understand, but their goals with technology are relatively disruptive.

Feel free to ask more questions, this is good to get my thoughts out there. I wish people had the time and resources to research these kinds of things before they go and get taken in by a sales person at a mobile store. In my experience the best sales people at mobile carriers will not have a clue as to how the network or handsets work (because they can’t own all the smartphones). The worst ones, of course, will lie, and there is no resource once you sign without reading 40 pages of small print.