In part 1 of this series, I wrote about choosing FreedomPop for an experiment to “to create a backup cellphone that cost $0.00 per month”. It’s been a month and here is an update.

freedompop-sim-card-big

As soon as the $0.99 SIM card arrived – and before it was even installed – I made sure to downgrade any promotional services so all that was active was the free voice, text, and data allowances.

The basic service includes:

  • Talk 200 minutes
  • Text 500 text messages
  • Data 500 MB

Over the course of the month I tried different scenarios to see if and when the phone used any of the allowances.

Unless I actually placed a call or sent a text, those remained unused. The data was another story.

I never used the cellphone or any apps unless I was on WiFi. Even still, I watched data usage accrue.

No matter how much tuning, tweaking, and settings I fiddled with, the phone always used some data each day. It used more data when I took it away from WiFi – for example, a walk around the farm or tossing it in the truck while doing errands.

On average it used about 2mb per day. Some days were less than 100kb while other days – when I was out all day – it would be 4mb or even 8mb.

I did a lot of digging and I was unable to account for 100% of the data usage. However, about 70% of it could be reconciled. The data was being used for system services such as DNS checks, push notifications, network checks, etc. There were no settings I could change to zero these out.

The only way to guarantee zero usage was to keep the phone off.

“What about turning off cellular data?” You ask? Well, here is a bit of a shocker. FreedomPop actually is “all data” and has no SMS/MMS text or cellular phone support.

FreedomPop requires its own phone app and texting app because it is exclusively a VoIP service. You can call any phone and text other people but under the covers you are initiating and receiving voice and text through the FreedomPop app. This means, if you are in an area with cellular voice coverage but poor on no data coverage you cannot place or receive phone calls.

FreedomPop has its own proxy servers so all data traffic flows to them and then out to the internet. If the data is a VoIP call, then FreedomPop computes minutes and deducts from the voice allowance. It handles text message similarly. All other data traffic counts against the data allowance.

In general, the way FreedomPop works is not a big deal. As long as you are receiving a reasonable data service signal on the cellphone, it works.

The one thing you cans do is use a FreedomPop SIM for IoT projects which expect native SMS service. (An example would be a text message enabled remote system.) Since the purpose of my experiment is to find a “free” backup cellphone, the limitations and implementation of FreedomPop are acceptable.

Now that the first month has passed I can verify it is still “free” and I have no invited any charges beyond the original $0.99 SIM and $5.00 minimum required credit balance.

This month I will be experimenting with the backup phone more with the goal of using more of the service allowances while remaining under the thresholds of the free tier.

2 thoughts on “Creating an emergency backup cellphone – part 2 minimizing overhead”

  1. So who is freedom pop contracting with for the access to the cell data service coverage? It’s got to be Verizon AT&T or something like that, right?

    1. From reading various sources, the underlying service for FreedomPop was Sprint. However, it is AT&T now (or at least in some areas). The service indicator in the test phone is AT&T.

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