Communicate Everywhere... Our MPON System
When we decided to do more exploring in remote, rustic, off-the-grid places, one of our concerns was being completely out of touch with family and the rest of the outside world. This was a two-way concern -- our ability to receive urgent and timely news concerning family or friends, as well as our ability to reach out for help in the event we need help for a life-threatening emergency or injury. The reality is we're in our 60s, and some of our parts ain't working like they did 40 years ago.
So after some research and experimentation, we came up with our current communications set-up. It could be dubbed MPON... for Multiple Phones One Number. Here's a brief rundown of what we have. I'll go into each point a little later in this post.
* three phones, one on each of the top national cell networks = best possible coverage
* one phone number and one voicemail system for all three phones = easy for everyone
* one smartphone and two flip phones = a choice of form factors
* a satellite messenger for two-way text messages and emergency SOS capability from anywhere on the planet = coverage even in the most remote places
* total monthly cost for all of the above: less than $50
Point two: One phone number. For a couple years now I've been playing around with Google Voice. Once signed up (no charge), you select a new phone number to which you can forward calls from any other phone. In our case, calls to any of our three cell phones are forwarded to our Google Voice number, which then instantly rings all our phones simultaneously, just like the old "extension phones" at home. Any phone that has service will ring and we can accept the call. First phone that answers gets the call. If we choose not to take a call, or if there's no service on any of the three phones, that call will go to Google Voicemail, where the caller can leave a message. That message is transcribed to text by Google and is sent as a text message or email to any phone or email account you desire. It's also possible to listen to the message directly from the email. Pretty neat.
For those used to the slick messaging interfaces of smartphones, the InReach interface is a bit primitive and cludgy... probably partly by design to keep the system from becoming burdened with unnecessary or low priority messages. But we find substantial peace-of-mind in having it along. Anytime we're camped and have no cell service we send an InReach text message to friends and family with our GPS location and that they'll have to use our "Plan B" if they need to reach us.
Point five: The Cost. Not one of these phones or the messenger is on a "contract". They're all prepaid or pay-as-you-go. It isn't important which phones or companies you go with and you can change anytime you'd like. Because the flip phones are so inexpensive, if one get busted or lost, it's not a big deal. And you also save by not having insurance on the devices. The important thing is to have one device on each of the national networks, the big-V, the big-A, and little old Sprint.
Our two Tracfones are about $100 per year each. The Republic Wireless smartphone is $10 per month (unlimited voice, text, and data on WIFI and unlimited voice and text on cell). The InReach plan we're on is the most basic and comes in at less than $15 per month. Occasionally, we may send or receive a few more messages than our plan provides for the basic charge, but the bill has never exceeded $20 for a month. Together, these four devices don't dent our budget by more than $50 per month on average.
I'm sure this system isn't for everyone. Some will find fault with something... anything. And some will find it too confusing ("four devices!!... how can I possibly manage?"). All I can say is that it works for us.