Americans ages 25 to 54 spend roughly 8.7 hours each day at work, and 7.7 hours sleeping, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey. That leaves less than eight hours where we're in need of reliable wireless access. Why, then, should consumers be expected to pay premium prices--for example, $148 for the average Verizon smartphone-wielding customer--for a cellular service plan from the nation's most popular carriers?
There are reasons you might want to continue to have a cellular contract, of course. As The Wall Street Journal notes, free, reliable Wi-Fi can be hard to come by when you're outdoors or you're traveling, and for security reasons you don't want to use public hotspots to check your bank account or send sensitive work emails. But if you're determined to save money and don't mind those occasional inconveniences, there are some useful strategies for staying connected to the Internet and to your contacts without cell service.
For placing calls over Wi-Fi, some of the industry's biggest players--such as Apple's FaceTime, Microsoft's Skype and Google Voice--offer free audio and video calling options. The same goes for texting with services like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and Google Hangouts dominating the field. Android and iOS apps like WhatsApp and GroupMe give users the option of sending group messages via their respective Web clients, which can be incredibly convenient if you're stuck with a dead phone battery or simply don't want to look back and forth from your computer.
If you're simply looking for a reliable Wi-Fi connection, cross-platform app Wi-Fi Map (which also comes in a $5 pro version) presents a crowdsourced database of public Wi-Fi hotspots across the globe. The app also lets users document Wi-Fi passwords and comment on individual hotspots (an option that might raise a few eyebrows, so make sure your home Wi-Fi network isn't on the list).
If you prefer a more secure option, consider buying your own 3G or 4G hotspot. Karma offers a pay-as-you-go rechargeable mobile hotspot with 6 to 8 hours of battery life for $99, complete with 1 gigabyte of data (each additional GB costs $14 ). Similarly, FreedomPop offers users 500MB of data every month for free through a rechargeable $60 hotspot that lasts about 4 hours. Both services use Sprint's 4G WiMax-powered network at times when they're not connected to Wi-Fi, so technically you won't be escaping your cellphone carriers just yet.
As WSJ notes, companies like Republic Wireless, iPass, and Devicescape use a patchwork of Wi-Fi hotspots to create their own network. Scratch Wireless lets customers place calls and texts for free over Wi-Fi or for $1.99 per day over Sprint's data network whenever Wi-Fi isn't available. (To use the service, you have to buy one of the company's $99 "Scratch smartphones"). Many carriers offer their own hotspots (i.e., Verizon's Jetpack), though once again you'll likely be stuck to a two-year contract and a mobile data plan. Verizon, however, allows you to adjust your data plan month-to-month, and if you're a particularly light data user you can get the Jetpack contract-free.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list, so feel free to suggest your favorite cell service alternatives and share your experiences in the comments section.