My phone/data setup in 2019

Many people have expensive unlimited plans;  my needs are simpler:

  • best coverage available
  • at a low cost
  • and I don’t need much bandwidth.  Stability for me is more important than speed or GB/month.
  • I don’t talk on the phone much, and all my “text messages” are routed over data via Google Voice.

saving money with MVNOs

Generally speaking, the cheapest plans are not from the major carriers but from resellers who buy spare network capacity and sell it under their own name.   These are called MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operator).  Sometimes an MVNO buys time from more than one carrier.

ATT: AirVoice, TracFone, Straight Talk, etc
Tmobile: Republic, Liberty, MetroPCS, etc
Sprint:  Ting, Virgin mobile, etc
Verizon: Net10, Puppy, Selectel, PagePlus, etc.

the mobile plan

As I mentioned a few months ago I chose US Mobile, a Verizon and Tmobile MVNO.  I use the Verizon side of it.   They have a plan designer that helps you make the plan you want (imagine that!).

The plan I selected was 100mins talk, 100 texts (neither of which I use) and 12GB of data at 1mbps, then 128kbps thereafter.  That’s $35/mo for Verizon coverage.  I don’t pay the extra $10 for hotspot functionality.

The closest plan to that one now is unlimited talk/text and 20GB of data @ 1mpbs then 128kbps.  $40/mo.  If you want to use your phone as a hotspot add $10/mo (or see below).

the tether workaround

I use a generic Verizon-compatible android phone with this plan.  To get hotspot-type functionality I run EasyTether Pro, $10.

EasyTether uses android’s ADB functionality to route data from the phone out to bluetooth or USB.  The author maintains an epic collection of drivers for whatever you are connecting to.

Since we are interested in mocking up a hotspot it is simple enough to connect to a wifi router.

mini router

Originally I was using an MT-300A like the one on the left, $25.  It’s a tiny thing, sitting in the palm of your hand with plenty of space left over.  The place I wanted to install it didn’t do it any favors when it came to connecting to things outside the van.  I’d basically have to point the van in the direction of the open wifi.

I wanted more outdoor range so I picked up an AR300M with external antennas, $45.  The AR series is Atheros chipped rather than MediaTek;   apparently that’s a functional upgrade.  Also more RAM, etc.  The external antennas are nice, but the big win is the ability to change out those external ants for aftermarket ones with a different design or more gain.

My handheld phone

The Verizon phones lives in the van, cabled to the router.

I carry a dual-SIM android phone with no paid data plan.

  • SIM1 slot:  a Freedompop SIM with free 200MB of data/mo on it.  Used to be 500MB/mo with easy ways to get up to 1GB/mo, but they put the kibosh on that.  Fpop is my emergency plan.  Note that fpop is kind of a beat-down and there can be nontrivial amounts of hoop-jumping involved.
  • SIM2 slot:grandfathered PAYGO TMO plan with about 1000 minutes  and $10/yr to extend the expiration of those minutes.  Like I said, I don’t use the phone much.

When I am around the van or public wifi I have normal data on it.  Otherwise I use offline maps like OsmAnd and have Wifi Map on it to help find accessible hotspots.  If no wifi is available the fpop SIM does its duty.



how it works

This setup works in two ways.

Pseudo-tethered:  it’s Verizon phone –> easytether –> minirouter == wifi inside and outside the van.  One benefit I hadn’t predicted beforehand was eating in a restaurant with no wifi.   I connect to the router in the van from my table and the laptop/chromebook is happy.

Repeater:  wifi (open or known password) somewhere  –> minirouter == wifi inside and outside the van.  If I am near accessible wifi and I have device/app updates to do, I connect the router to the wifi to save on mobile data.  The aftermarket antennas are so good sometimes if I am in a building with weak wifi it’s actually a stronger connection to my van’s repeated wifi than the building’s wifi directly!  Both of the minirouters have the ability to automagically connect to any known wifi SSID, so when you approach the wifi the router is already connecting to it.


FT-specific services

Mobile data

Still loving this US Wireless, an MNVO.  They resell both Verizon (“Super LTE”) and TMO (“GSM LTE”).  The TMO is slightly less expensive but I imagine nomads will pick the Super LTE option to get Big V’s coverage.  USM has a fun/clever website, massively customizable plans, and discount prices compared to dealing with V directly.

gym membership

I did the Planet Fitness “black card” membership because Continue reading “FT-specific services”

Article: amortising RV internet

Here are poll results based on this question:  Would you pay extra for dependable, fast internet [at an RV park]?


Let’s take that data and see what it might look like as a monthly rate:

  • $30/mo, 20%
  • $60/mo, 21%
  • $90/mo, 11%
  • $150/mo, 11%
  • $180 – $300/mo, 2%
  • Would not pay for internet, 34%

There are reasons why this may not be a valid comparison (they already have dataplans on their phones, etc).

When I go FT I would pay $60/mo and would be ecstatic with $30/mo.  I know I won’t pay $70/mo since I cut off my DSL at that rate and am getting by on the grandfathered Verizon 3G.







Backchannel: more “pointless bickering”

from this thread:


Are you under the impression that cellphone radio waves are more or less harmful than WiFi?

There is no point trying, John.  “You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into“.


…I would like to share what I do know about getting and using the internet in the hopes of informing a person that did not know how to while on the road. The thing is I doubt a new person would get to this point and see it.

No one’s replies are louder than any others.  Share what you know or Continue reading “Backchannel: more “pointless bickering””

Tethering a VS415PP on Verizon 3g

I bought a phone flashed with a grandfathered 3g unlimited plan from a private seller, who had in turn bought it from one of the [in]famous eBay device flashers.  This particular device is a Zone 2 (vs415pp).

It came rooted with Wifi Tether Router installed.  Over time WTR started getting flakier and I dorked up the settings.  Eventually I couldn’t get it to work at all.

Finally Continue reading “Tethering a VS415PP on Verizon 3g”

thriving on minimal resources

[Note:  this entry is based on a CRVL post]

I am still in a house but I have been living on very little for several years in order to pay off debt from a previous life.  🙂   Now I snowball that same debt payment amount into pre-tax accounts so I am still living on the same pittance.

As I wrote this up I realized it might seem a bit like a hair shirt;  it’s really not.  Now I see frugality as a game and a challenge.  Here is how I live on little:

  • housing
    • live in a rural area in a rundown house with very low rent while I plan for ‘dwelling retirement
    • aggressive use of digital thermostat to control house temp.  I cool only my bedroom at night with a window unit in summer and warm with heated mattress pad and dogs in winter).
  • transportation
    • truck is paid for
    • drive at a reasonable speed to maximize MPG;  currently getting 28.1 MPG in a 4cyl Ford Ranger with 299K miles on it.  Motorcycle gets 65mpg.
    • do my own vehicle maintenance when possible
  • food
    • cook for myself instead of eating out
    • a few years ago I reduced the amount of meat I eat (other than that I take myself, a la Ted Nugent).
    • the meat I do eat tends to be inexpensive which work well in a pressure cooker.
    • eat what is cheap due to season, excess production, loss leader sales, etc.
    • if I can put it to immediate use, buy clearance dairy and meat
    • make my own coffee.  I use a thrift store french press ($2-$3) which makes tremendous coffee.  Recommended ratio:  1 ounce of coffee for 16 fluid ounces of water (30g/500ml for our frozen Canadian friends)
    • keep my pantry stocked so I can buy stuff only when it is for sale at my predetermined price point
    • pour a nightcap for myself (Bulleit Rye, omg omg omg) if I want one instead of buying a drink somewhere.  I only buy on sale.
  • durable items
    • thrift stores and garage sales
    • stopped buying any durables that do not fit into my boondocking plan <– amazingly effective life change
  • clothes
    • bought at thrift stores.  Yesterday everything but my socks and underwear was 2nd-hand.
  • communication
  • health
    • medical from VA, optics from Zenni
    • $50 treadmill, $100 weight station
  • hobbies:
    • Computer stuff
      • I have never owned a new PC.  My current machines are vintage 2007 (workstation) and 2005 (laptop) and run great.  When I retire an old machine every few years the sweet spot for replacement is about $120 shipped on eBay.
      • It’s cheap to max out memory on them and run a lightweight (and free) OS on them:  Debian linux on the box and Antergos/Arch on the laptop.   Both of these have Live versions where you can run the OS completely from USB or CD/DVD to see how you like it.  No changes are made to your normal machine!
    • reading – I only read ebooks now;  these can be checked out remotely from the library.  Many older or public domain works are available for free.
    • sewing – I have an old $20 Singer which I use to mend clothes, etc.
  • relationships
    • I am happily divorced.  I don’t think I could be living this simply with an S.O.
    • I no longer chase women.  It’s expensive, exhausting, and in the medium term not a good investment (Keynes:  “in the long term we are all dead”).
    • I came to this position independently, but later learned of the MGTOW movement.  As with most movements, the principles are useful but some of the adherents are angry, unhappy people looking for an excuse to hate on others (c.f. religion, politics, sports, etc).  So in the way a woman might say “I’m a feminist but not a man-hating feminist”, I will say “I am MGTOW but not a woman-hating MGTOW”.  I am reminded of the approach in Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural:  “honest friendship with all… entangling alliances with none”.  🙂

email bandwidth conservation

Email is something we take for granted until we can’t get it; then it’s a First World Crisis.  Luckily email can be extremely efficient because text is cheap to send/receivetext.  And since so little data is moved in minimal setups you can often get email through when nothing else works.

We need to look at the two major ways to do email:  webmail and traditional email clients.


Webmail means accessing your email via a webpage Continue reading “email bandwidth conservation”

web bandwidth and data conservation

There are two entangled ideas here:

  • the amount of data you use over time (like a month).  If it were electricity this might be kilowatt-hours.
  • the amount of data you use at any given time (available bandwidth of your connection).  If this were electricity it might be Amperes.

We will address the data side of these but it will also pay off when you find your bandwidth limited by crowding or limited reception.

Why you need to know about how webpages work

You don’t have to be a geek but understanding the basics will help you control your data use.  The most important thing to understand is Continue reading “web bandwidth and data conservation”