Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How to never miss a call with your smartphone!

...at least as long as you have WiFi or any other internet connection.

Almost everyone with a cell phone will tell you they have that one frustrating spot that seems to never have a signal. This usually happens in the center of a building, or a basement, where the RF waves just never seem to reach.

Recently, I found myself in this situation since I moved desks at work from a window seat to a larger office in the center of the building. Just as I feared, my desk is now devoid of almost all cell services, and I haven't been able to get a single bar there with T-Mobile.

I tried calling T-mobile and reporting a weak reception area, but we all know that probably won't do anything, at least not for several years. Oh, what to do!

Well, I'm happy to say that having a smartphone has paid off again...
I am now able to receive all my regular calls, on my cell phone, and the best part is it doesn't actually use my minute allotment for the month!
How is this possible?
Well, I've got 4 words for you: Skype for Windows Mobile.

In case you've been living under a rock, Skype (click for more info) is the one of the biggest internet-voice services existing. The basic premise is that you can make free PC to PC calls without the hassle of a telephone. While its not exactly VOIP, they do offer VOIP-ish services, such as Skype-In which assigns a local telephone number to ring into your skype account.

So how does this help?
Here's what I did:

I bought a Skype-in number.
I then installed Skype for WM Smartphone.
I then set my call forwarding if unavailable number to my Skype-In number (this can be set in start>settings>phone>call forwarding. By default it is the T-mobile voice mail number).
I then make sure I have an internet connection at work (WiFi or activesync, I will explain why activesync may be better below).

That's it!
How does it work?

Simple: When my phone is out of service, it registers as unavailable to the network. When unavailable, it will forward my calls to the skype in number which DOES ring on my phone (through skype) and then I can talk to the person.
This is different from busy or unanswered calls, which will still go to my T-mobile voice mail as long as my phone is on and has service. Basically, this will only happen when I'm out of service.

Doesn't Skype-In cost money?
Yes, it does.
However, it is VERY inexpensive... it adds up to about $3 or $4 a month, depending upon the plan you purchase. For me, its worth the few bucks to have my calls come in. Also, I'm considering using the skype-in number as a seperate business line as well... I could give people that number instead of my cell phone for privacy purposes. Its a worthwhile investment, especially if you consider that you're getting "extra" minutes (see next item).

Doesn't call forwarding still use your minutes?
Not exactly.
Yes, you use minutes, but not your regular minutes, at least not with T-mobile.
Most people don't realize that you get an additional 1000min for call forwarding (different plans may vary), which doesn't come out of your regular minute bucket. These are like free minutes from a separate bucket which I would never otherwise be able to use! Being that I don't use that many regular minutes in a month, I doubt I'll EVER make that many when just out of service!

Doesn't leaving WiFi on all day eat your battery?
Most smartphones that have WiFi also don't keep it on when there isn't any activity. So, you could either set it to stay on, and kill your battery, or you could connect it to activesync when you're at a desk, and then just use WiFi when roaming around the office. Remember, Activesync not only passes the internet to your phone through the computer, but it also charges through the USB cable.

What if my smartphone doesn't have WiFi?
Ha, and you call that a smartphone?
Seriously though, all you Moto Q, Blackjack, and users of smartphones from yesteryear can still do this without WiFi.
As I mentioned above, you could always use the activesync solution, or use a bluetooth connection (AKA WiFi mini) if you'd rather not be tethered.

Isn't this similar to UMA?
Yes, sorta.
UMA stands for Unlicesned Mobile Access. Some providers, including T-mobile, are currently testing the prospect of allowing WiFi phones to make VOIP calls when available to save minutes and help poor reception areas.
The difference is that UMA will be a seperate charge from the carrier, and uh, it doesn't exist yet. You'll also need new phones to use it since no current phone supports UMA.

Good luck, and contact me if you found this usefull!
Feel free to ask any questions...