Hacking The Carriers with Tablets and Hotspots

Tablet as Phone

While I was on vacation WIRED ran a piece which I bookmarked to post about when I got home. The TL;DR can be found in the url for the post: “phones are tablets.” Hey, didn’t I write about this back in September of 2013? Yay me! 😛

Anyway, two calendar years later, the point still stands. If data from your carrier is too expensive you may be surprised to find a much cheaper alternative in the form of a data-only tablet plan. For the missing pieces of the puzzle—voice and SMS—the likes of Skype, Vonage, Viber, Fongo, etc. have got your back. My VoIP provider, VoIP.ms, has had full SMS functionality since July of 2014.

And talk about savings… the example given by WIRED is a $30, 3GB/month iPad plan from T-Mobile USA, versus a $60/month iPhone plan with voice. Here in Canada you can still get 5GB on a tablet for $40/month from Rogers. The closest comparable rate I found for a smartphone is if you bring your own and pay them more than double for less data—$90/month for 4GB.

Thing is, this is very clearly a kludge. People still make voice calls, apparently, and your VoIP stand-in may or may not end up sounding as good as what your carrier has on offer for your phone. And while your SIM-enabled tablet may or may not support SMS out of the box, MMS is most likely a no-go. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong on this.

Some two years on, I maintain that the humble hotspot is the better way to go. Why limit your data to only one device when you can share it with a phone, tablet, laptop, friends? I still have my Sierra Wireless AirCard on a flex plan from Rogers; I don’t use it often but it’s invaluable when I do. With a data-dedicated device you can just get a dumbphone with unlimited voice and SMS, as those two services are pretty much commodity items these days.

But alas, hotspots have their own gotchas. If you want to travel with them they’re harder to unlock, and even if you can you may not have the bands you need for the places you’re visiting. Also, your carrier may be getting wise to the hidden power of the hotspot. My flex plan from Rogers has seen a significant rate hike—the 5GB I get for $40/month is now $70, and overages are now $15/GB instead of $10. Worst of all is a news item I’ve been sitting on since last November. It seems that hotspot sales are plummeting.

Obviously, the best and most convenient solution is an affordable LTE data plan from your carrier. And currently the only way to get that here in Cana-duh is another little carrier hack you’ll find here on the forums. I think we all know what I’m talking about… 😎