One of the challenges with cruising full-time has been finding a cost-effective way to have internet service. What we were looking for was something similar to what we would get at home – unlimited data with no throttling for a reasonable price. You’d think we were trying to find the holy grail. From what we’ve read it’s readily available in other countries, but the United States isn’t exactly consumer friendly when it comes to the cost of cell phone plans and data.
For the first six months that we lived on the boat we had a T-Mobile plan on our cell phones for $90/month (for 2 lines) with unlimited data, and an unlimited data plan on our iPad through AT&T for $30/month (which recently increased to $35/month). Using T-Mobile was o.k., but hotspot data was capped which was problematic because that was our laptop internet connection (the iPad plan didn’t include tethering).
When we went to the Bahamas we tried to use the T-Mobile data on our phones, but it was incredibly slow. No matter what we tried it felt almost as slow as dial-up from the old days.
Then we learned about My Island Wifi and we found internet nirvana. All of our devices could connect simultaneously using a hot spot device with unlimited data. It was fast enough to stream movies and there was no throttling, all for $75/month. The only problem was our T-Mobile phone plan. The hoops we needed to jump through to switch to a $3/month plan were ridiculous, especially now that we were already out of the country, so we reluctantly paid $90/month for three months for something that we didn’t use. Every month when I saw that $90 leave our account it would irritate the hell out of me.
My Island Wifi only works in the Bahamas, so we had to reluctantly give it up when we came back. Now that we were once again paying more money for inferior service, I was a woman on a mission to try to find a better value. I wanted the equivalent of My Island Wifi here in the states.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had been spoiled. A question was posted on one of the ICW Facebook pages by someone who had used My Island Wifi in the Bahamas, and now they were looking for the same thing in the states. Unlimited data, unlimited hotspot, fast speed, no throttling. That’s what everyone wanted. Like I said, it’s the holy grail.
After sifting through a lot of irrelevant responses (hey, it’s Facebook), someone mentioned OTR Mobile which uses AT&T towers. Popular with full-time RV’ers, it was identical to My Island Wifi – connect multiple devices using a hot spot with high speed, unlimited data and no throttling – for $60/month. After doing some research we decided to give it a go. So far it’s been exactly as advertised and we are very happy with it.
Now what to do about our phone service? We wanted to pay as little as possible since we didn’t need data. None of the carriers make it easy to find this (after all, spending less money is not in their best interests), but we discovered that T-Mobile had a pay as you go plan for as little as $3 month through Ultra Mobile. We bought two SIM cards for $15 each and gave it a try. 24 hours later it became clear for various reasons not worth getting into that we had just set $30 on fire. Grrr. Ultimately we decided to port our cell numbers to Google Voice and simply make wifi calls using OTR Mobile data.
Being able to connect all of our devices to the OTR hotspot meant that we could cancel our data plan on the iPad, so we have now managed to cut our cell phone/internet service bill from $125 a month to $70 month. Granted, there were some start up costs with the hotspot and SIM card (not to mention the wasted SIM cards from Ultra Mobile), but we’ll hit the break-even point in two months.
When we go to the Bahamas this winter we can suspend the OTR service and switch to My Island Wifi. By porting our numbers to Google Voice, friends and family can call us using our numbers that we’ve had for years no matter where we are. This will be really helpful when we start branching out beyond the Bahamas. It took a lot of effort, but it looks like one of our particularly vexing problems has finally been solved!