Blog Post

Galaxy Nexus + data plan + VoIP support = free calls!

When I bought my unlocked Galaxy Nexus, I figured that I’d simply use the SIM card in my iPhone 4S with the handset. Instead, I pulled the T-Mobile SIM out of my Samsung Galaxy Tab. I’m glad I did because I discovered a very appealing scenario. By using the data-only SIM — which costs me $40.00 per month for unlimited texts and data — with a new Android 4.0(s goog) feature, I’ve turned the Galaxy Nexus into a VoIP phone: I can get or receive calls solely through Wi-Fi and mobile broadband networks without subscribing to a voice plan.

Native SIP support in Android 4.0

Google’s newest mobile operating system version, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, natively supports SIP accounts in the Phone dialer app. This addition of SIP support opens up a whole new world of voice possibilities. SIP, which stands for Session Initiated Protocol, unifies both voice and video over standard IP-based networks. As voice becomes data — especially in the future as LTE networks are IP-based — this means we’ll have more flexibility and features over traditional voice calls and even phone numbers.

Let me step back for one second to clarify something: SIP support on smartphones isn’t new, nor did Google “invent” anything here. I recall that some Nokia(s nok) devices a few years back included native SIP support in both the Symbian and Maemo platforms. In addition, there are a number of third-party SIP-based VoIP apps available for both iOS and Android. Google has simply integrated SIP support into the platform.

Wi-Fi and 3G are generally fine for voice

Having said that, I’m glad they did. As I was using the Nexus all weekend long (see my first video impressions here), I was still carrying my iPhone 4S, which has my primary phone number. Finding the SIP support and configuration options within the Android 4.0 Phone settings got me thinking more about VoIP. It also didn’t hurt that in my local area, I’m seeing nearly 10 Mbps download speeds on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network. Standard voice calls use far less bandwidth — around 12 Kbps — while even new wideband audio codecs used for higher quality sound top out around 64 Kbps. So, VoIP over Wi-Fi and 3G ought to be just fine for the most part and shouldn’t do too much damage to a capped data plan.

The SIP setup

There are a number of VoIP companies that support SIP, so I did some research over the weekend and settled on Callcentric for now. There was no charge to get a SIP account, which enabled VoIP to VoIP calls on my Galaxy Nexus after I configured the Phone app. Taking things one step further, I signed up with Callcentric to provide me a local phone number for $2.95 per month. With that, I can receive incoming phone calls at no charge: These can originate from any phone — mobile or landline — just like a traditional call. But while the phone may start on a cell network or old copper line, it gets routed as data to my handset.

That’s all well and good, but to be honest, I don’t want to give my contacts yet another number. Enter Google Voice, which uses the customized phone number I hand out to everyone. I added my Callcentric phone number to Google Voice and now all incoming calls to my main number ring my Galaxy Nexus at no charge. They also ring all of my other phones, making for a jarring experience when I actually get a call!

So now I have free incoming calls coming to the Nexus and its data-only SIM card. I tested a 20 minute Wi-Fi call with Andy Abramson, a VoIP guru, and the call quality was superb. Testing calls over HSPA+ to my son were also great, but of course, will vary based on coverage and other factors.

Free incoming and cheap outgoing calls

But if I stopped there, I would only be able to make outbound calls to other SIP users. Again, Callcentric had a solution. While it sells unlimited voice plans for $19.99 a month, I make few outbound calls, so I opted for the no monthly charge, pay as you go calling plan. By adding a minimum $5 credit to my Callcentric account, I can now make calls to any phone — a landline or a cellular phone — from my Nexus over the data line. The cost for calling in the U.S.? $0.019 per minute. Given my limited outbound calling, that $5 ought to last me several months.

There are a number of ways to get all of this working, but this was my first effort and I’m generally happy so far. The only downside right now is that outgoing calls show my Callcentric phone number on the recipient’s phone and I’d rather have my Google Voice number appear. Some third-party SIP clients and services allow for number “spoofing” to make this happen, so I may yet change my setup. Ideally, I’d like to see Google add both SIP support and number spoofing to Google Voice.

Data for the win!

Again, I had planned to switch my AT&T SIM between the Nexus and iPhone 4S, but I think this solution is better. I don’t need to swap SIMs and incoming calls will ring both phones. The data-only SIM without a voice calling plan requirement is about half the cost of a traditional voice and data plan, even with the $2.50 a month I’m paying for the Callcentric phone number. And my Samsung Galaxy Tab — which is effectively a Wi-Fi tablet — can still be taken everywhere because its SIM card can be used with the portable hotspot feature of the Galaxy Nexus. It’s a win all around for me.

My deeper dive into SIP and mobile VoIP is far from over, though. I’ll continue to look at alternative options and third-party clients. My next step is a chat with the folks at Counterpath, which offers Bria, a VoIP/SIP client, for both iPhone/iPad(s aapl) and Android devices. I’ll share the results of that discussion in a follow-on post within the next day or two. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying voice calls on my data-centric Galaxy Nexus!

72 Responses to “Galaxy Nexus + data plan + VoIP support = free calls!”

  1. Xwpis ONOMA

    Thanks -again- for the reply.

    Sorry, I must have missed it in your article that your phone is an “import” from Europe. It’s good to know that others have tried, successfully, what I am about to attempt.

    I also found an article about what we’re discussing here so I am posting here in case anyone wants to comment:

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/243518/going_voiponly_do_you_still_need_cellular_voice_service.html

    Thank you all very much!

  2. Xwpis ONOMA

    Hello and thanks for the opportunity to participate in this very interesting conversation.

    I have a very simple question, stemming from something I read here in an earlier post.

    I am with T-Mobile, my previous plan (basic voice no text/data) has expired, I did not like the offer they made me to renew so currently I go month-to-month.

    My goal is to reduce my payment, get a data/text plan, use primarily VOIP, go on some prepaid service, use my own smart phone and retain my current number.

    Is this possible, yes or not? I am not an extremely tech-savvy guy but I can follow instructions.

    Here’s what I think might work (step by step):

    1. Buy the 30$ T-Mobile plan (5G unlimited data/text + 100 Voice mins) from Walmart.

    2. Go to a T-Mobile store to activate after buying (from them or Amazon) the required special SIM card, hopefully keeping my existing number.

    3. Use my own smart phone. I have brought my own Samsung Galaxy from Europe, would that work? If not which phone do I need, I mean what kind of phone do I need?

    4. Find a good android app to make VOIP incoming and outgoing calls/texts, that is without relying on the meager 100 voice mins the plan allows. Ideally, I’ll save these 100 mins for emergency in case DATA is not available at all or happen to be in a problematic area.

    I think I read somewhere in a tech magazine that this is possible, although the author started from scratch, i.e. no phone number at all, so after some research he settled using a Skype account with a US number, both for (about) an extra $9. However in my case, ideally, I am keeping my own number, right?

    I mean if I can get this scenario to work for $30-$39 a month, that would be the ideal, don’t you think?

    I am a foreign student on a shoe-string budget and I will not be roaming much (probably at all) outside the Chicago metropolitan area.

    Any thoughts and feedback will be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!

    • Several readers reported that the $30 deal you describe is perfectly suited to do this. The only potential problem I see is keeping your current number. It may or may not work; it all depends on who you deal with at T-Mobile. I once did a phone number swap with AT&T on an existing contract but I had to work hard at it and get the right people at the right time. Good luck!

      • Xwpis ONOMA

        Thanks for the response. I will be bringing a brand-new bought European Samsung Nexus (GSM, unlocked) for use in the US? Has anybody done this before? As soon as I have it I will be attempting some of the methods previously described here and will report back. Any body who has done this before? (i.e. European model used in the US?) I can use any advice – Thanks!

  3. What is the bandwidth requirements for , I have read some people using the MJ app having problems with choppy voice (due to lower upload speed) what bandwidth package plan do I need ?

  4. Devin Nee

    I just purchased a Nexus Galaxy form the UK to use with T-mobile. I found that if you go to T-mobile and find the right person and sweet talk them they will hook you up with the Walmart plan at no charge.

    Now since this plan has so few minutes i wanted to use VOIP to et around that. I did in fact purchase the Groove IP app and it kind of works but the set up process is not very well laid out. it has some many hidden settings that may or may not be right for your device. it took a few hours of testing to find the right configuration and i don’t think that i have it yet. I have trouble getting audio from anything but the speaker phone.

    If anyone has tried out this app and gotten it to work really well especially with a galaxy nexus please let me know. I’m going to continue to fight with until i find the right settings but it hasn’t been easy yet. especially since you can’t change the settings during a call.

    • Logan Hairgrove

      Thanks Todd. I did get this to work. One thing is for people with 2-factor authentication you have to make an application specific password and use that as your password as your Google Voice password, your PBX password, and whenever else it asks you for your password.

      So is the quality based on PBX or something else? What service do you think offers the best call quality for free?

  5. Michael Towne

    Hi everyone! What I would like to know is, does the Galaxy Nexus global version talk to T-Mobile’s higher speed connections such as 3G?

    From what I understand T-Mobile’s radio frequency for 3G is different than the global GSM standard, so most phones you only get EDGE (2G) speeds. Can anyone confirm this for the Galaxy Nexus or other Android phones?

  6. I used some pretty complicated set-ups to get SIP calling working for free over WiFi while I was in Iraq. Then an Android app called GrooveIP came out. For a one time purchase of less than $5, you can make and receive unlimited calls from and to your Google Voice number. It doesn’t make use of the built in SIP support that was added in Gingerbread, but is by far the simplest solution I have found. And for iPhone users, there is a free app called Talkatone.

  7. Bill Shubert

    I’m thinking of buying an unlocked GSM Galaxy Nexus and using it (I’m in the USA). Mostly because I want a galaxy nexus but don’t want Verizon. Never having bought an onlocked phone, I was hoping somebody here could answer questions:
    * So I buy the unlocked GSM g. nexus. Then I can just go to T-Mobile and get a plan, and that’s that? How about Virgin, do unlocked GSM phones work in their system too?
    * With this system, do I get all the apps that the locked phones lose, like tethering, google wallet, etc.?

    Thanks to anybody who can answer this.