Previously a happy user of Three's now defunct 123 tariff, spending perhaps £10 a year on top-ups, and now faced with a 300% increase to move to 1pmobile (the cheapest tariff I could find to replace Three), I wanted to look at whether it was possible to actually get minimal mobile service for absolutely nada. Zilch.
Firstly, start with a Three Mobile SIM providing 200MB of data for free
(you need to use at least a bit of it each month to keep the sim active. Note that the "register" method mentioned on the page linked to doesn't actually work, but some googling should point you in the right direction for registering the SIM
- I had to replace "three.co.uk" in the APN settings with "3Internet" to get up and running)
Now that gives you a small amount of usable data and app to app calls using, say Whatsapp or Signal - but what about app to landline/mobile calls?
You *could* use the Amazon Alexa app
, which allows you to make free calls to landlines, however I don't recommend this, as the Android Alexa app tends to end calls as soon as your screen goes off and is generally a bit flakey.
Instead, I recommend using Viber
. Viber is, as far as I know, unique in that you can pay for Viber Out (app to mobile/landline) credit using Google Play Credit; the "free" trick is you can earn Google Play Credit for free using the Google Rewards app
As an example, I earn, on average, £30 of Google Rewards Credit per year (the trick is leave Google Maps Timeline location tracking on - basically the Rewards app will quiz you about if you made purchases at pretty much every shop you walk past, giving you between 6p to 30p per question). My daily stroll now deliberately takes in the high street...
Spent on Viber out, that buys about 125 minutes of landline talk time per month, which (at 14MB of data per hour) uses about 25 MB of your 200MB monthly allowance (assuming you don't just use public wifi for your calls. If you're at home anyway on your own wifi, I recommend using a dedicated Alexa device to make calls to landlines - I bought an Echo Dot on ebay - for free, of course, using a fivers worth of Nectar points earnt through Nectar Canvas
- for precisely this purpose).
Viber credit never expires, but it is "frozen" if unused in 6 months, but you just need to log in to the Viber website to unfreeze it.
(Note you can also use Google Play Credit to pay for Google One subscriptions, which I also recommend, rather than frittering it away on apps. As well as the storage, I got 3 months free of Google Premium and Stadia)
Both Viber and Alexa will appear as if the call is coming from your own mobile number, btw, so people can return calls as normal.
Finally - SMS; there's a number of "text for free" websites if you need to send the occasional individual SMS (while using whatsapp or whatever for actual conversations) though be aware that they generally unleash a flood of marketing messages. If you're more tech savvy, you can get some free developer SMS credit with one of the many SMS API providers and send free texts using a simple API REST client.
This is not for everyone, but if you barely use any mobile minutes, rarely if ever use SMS and barely any data (or, like me, live in a city swimming in free wifi and 99% of the time use whatsapp etc) and begrudge even just £30 a year (1pmobile again) on mobile service that you will use a third of at best, or you just enjoy sticking it to the man with "extreme couponing" - this is how you can make it all entirely free.