April 3, 2014
When Facebook shelled out $16 billion for mobile messaging app WhatsApp in February, it had many Americans scratching their heads. “A texting app? Isn’t that what I use my cell plan for?” Web-based messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, Google Voice, Skype and Facebook Messenger are used by a vast majority of texters worldwide, while those in the U.S. continue to utilize mostly SMS texting through their cell service provider. Will Web-based mobile messaging and talk apps let you say sayonara to your pricey cell service?
As one of the most popular Web-based mobile messaging apps, WhatsApp has more than 450 million monthly users and reports that they’re adding more than 1 million new users every day. In Latin America and Europe, 83 percent to 98 percent (depending on the country) of Smartphone users have WhatsApp installed on their phones.
Instead of using a texting plan offered as part of a cell network (such as AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile here in the States), users of apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, Google Voice, Skype and Facebook Messenger send text messages through a free (or almost free) application installed on their Smartphone. Some apps also support VoIP (Voice Over IP) calling. Because these apps offer unlimited texting and calling over the Internet, users can drastically lower their cell plan’s minute and text allotment or in some cases, ditch the cell service entirely.
Anyone who struggles not to exceed their monthly text or minute allotment should consider trying out a free Web-based messaging app. If you switch enough of your use to the app, you may be able to downgrade to a less expensive plan with fewer texts and minutes, saving money on overage fines and your monthly bill.
Let’s explore some of the most common questions about using web-based messaging apps.
“Do I have to be connected to WiFi to send or receive texts and phone calls?”
If you use a Smartphone, you may have noticed that your cell plan consists of three parts: minutes (for phone calls), texts, and data. The data gives you access to the internet (typically identified as 3G or 4G data) when you aren’t within range of a Wi-Fi connection.
Those who rely entirely on web-based talk and messaging apps can purchase a data-only plan and ditch their costly cell service provider. UppWireless offers plans as low as $15/month for 1GB of data with no contract. The service works with T-Mobile-compatible and out-of-network phones, which gives it a leg up over Republic Wireless which offers similarly low-priced plans but only works on a limited number of phones.
“I’m concerned about reliability and usability. Can I try out Web-based texting and calling before I cancel my cell service?”
Absolutely. In fact, we’d highly recommend it. Install one of the messaging apps on your existing Smartphone and use it to call and text instead of defaulting to your carrier’s provided minutes and text allotment. Having to launch an app to place a call or send a text (instead of touching the phone symbol) might take some getting used to, so try out the process before you ditch your cell plan entirely.
If you’re considering switching to a data-only plan through a carrier like UppWireless, download their VoIP application through UppTalk and test its reliability when placing and receiving calls.
Many Web-based messaging apps require that the person you are communicating with also have the same app installed. Google Voice and UppTalk can send and receive messages to users who don’t have the app. If you’re considering WhatsApp, Telegram, or Skype, chat with those you communicate with most frequently about installing the app as well – the lure of saving on their text/minutes plan might encourage them to try something new.
Not all messaging apps support voice calling, and those that do sometimes charge for calling a landline or mobile phone that doesn’t have the same app installed. Skype, for example, charges $2.99/month for unlimited landline and mobile calling within the U.S. while Google Voice is free to call any number in the U.S. provided you’re calling from the U.S. or Canada. Review pricing and options from the major mobile VoIP providers to find the one that fits your needs.
“What about international calling/texting?”
This is where web-based messaging apps truly shine. It’s expensive to call or text internationally on a traditional landline or mobile calling plan. The per-minute rate to place international calls over a service like Google Voice, Skype, or the UppWireless app to an international landline or mobile phone can cost as little as $.01 to $.10/minute, but texting or placing a call to someone else using the same app is free. If you can get your brother in Barcelona to install the same messaging and/or VoIP app, you can text and talk to him for free.
Also, traditional cell-based SMS texts can fail to be delivered if the recipient’s network is incompatible with the sender’s network. Texting through a Web-based messaging app eliminates incompatibility.
Note: Google Voice is likely to be rolled into Google’s Hangouts product sometime this year. It’s unclear what this will mean for the mobile messaging and calling app.
Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair service for homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.