test Choosing a Wireless Calling Plan That's Right for You
Over the life of your phone, the calling
plan service will cost much more than the phone itself-especially
if the phone is free. Thus, the best way to control your
budget is to choose the most cost-effective calling plan
from a carrier with good coverage in your area. Aggressive
competition for subscribers among carriers (also known as
service providers) has driven the monthly and per-minute
costs of wireless calling dramatically downward and even
made some of the latest phones, packed with cutting-edge
features, unprecedented bargains. Subscribers' ability to
keep their existing wireless phone number-and even their
landline based numbers-when starting or transferring service
to a new carrier has created more downward-pressure on comparative
service plans through direct competition. As a result, every
day more people are switching to exclusively wireless, giving
up their landline based service altogether.
Calling Plan Basics
With the right calling plan, a wireless phone shouldn't
cost much more than a landline service phone. But the sheer
number of choices and complexity in rate plans can make simple
comparison and selection a challenge for anyone.
Two key differences that make wireless calling plans more
complex than typical landline service. First, wireless phone
customers pay for service based on the number of minutes
for both incoming and outgoing calls, unlike landline service
which is typically unlimited in nature excepting long-distance
fees. Second, by their very nature wireless phones are not
tethered to land-line access, allowing a customer to send
and receive calls or messages from a virtually infinite number
As a direct result of these differences, a wireless calling
plan bill is a very accurate tally of where a customer uses
their phone, how long they talk, what time of day they talk,
and what numbers they called or received calls from.
Components of a Cell Phone Bill
Estimating an average or maximum monthly usage in each of
these categories will help narrow the field of calling plans
to a more manageable selection of cost-effective choices.
typically measured in minutes, for both call placed and calls
received. Most monthly calling plans include a specific allowance
of talk time, frequently divided into peak and off-peak minutes,
for a flat monthly fee. Any talk time used over this allowance
will cost extra, usually at comparatively much higher per-minute
(also know as Anytime or Whenever minutes) are
talk time minutes used during the prime calling periods
when the carrier networks are most active, typically between
6am and 9pm Monday through Friday. Because of this demand,
Peak Minutes are expensive. Plans that include more Peak
Minutes typically have higher monthly fees.
(also known as Night and Weekend Minutes) are Talk
Time minutes used outside of prime calling periods (typically
at night and on weekends) when the carriers are least active.
Off-Peak Minutes are the least expensive Talk Time minutes
and are often included in generous quantities (frequently
unlimited) even in many inexpensive plans. Customers who
expect to use their phone frequently at night and on weekends
should make sure to choose a plan with a generous allowance
of Off-Peak minutes.
refers to any wireless phone use outside of a customer's
home calling area or carrier network coverage. Because most
phones feature multiple network capabilities, Roaming agreements
between carriers let customers use their phones over a much
wider area than a carrier's network service coverage. However,
customers typically pay significantly more than even Peak
Minute rates for using this capability. Unless a calling
plan specifically offers no Roaming charges, this Talk Time
is usually the most expensive. International Roaming is possible
with some wireless phones, and accordingly is even more expensive.
Frequent travelers are best served with plans that feature
no roaming charges.
charges may apply to calls that are placed to numbers
outside your local area codes. Because Talk Time charges
also apply, wireless Long distance calls can be more expensive
than on a land-line phone. However, all carriers offer a
selection of calling plans that include free Long Distance
service where all domestic calls placed are billed at only
the applicable Talk Time rates. For frequent long distance
callers, these plans are often more cost effective than landline
long distance service.
Additional Talk Time
also known as Additional Minutes) is the amount
of wireless phone use that exceeds your allowance of Peak-
or Off-Peak Minutes or both. After Roaming charges, these
Additional Talk Time minutes are the most common cause of
unexpectedly high wireless phone bills.
(also known as In-Network Minutes) are minutes used
for calling or receiving calls from another customer on your
carrier's service network. When included in a calling plan,
are not measured as Peak- or Off-Peak Minutes and are tallied
in a third distinct category. When offered as an unlimited
allowance on some carrier plans, Mobile-to-Mobile calling
becomes especially valuable with friends and family who have
service from the same carrier, effectively making any wireless-to-wireless
call between them free.
including multimedia messaging, downloads, wireless
Web access and wireless modem capabilities are typically
optional carrier plan services that are offered for an additional
charge, either separately or bundled together as packages.
Unlike voice service, Data Services come in many forms and
are packaged and priced in many different ways from per-message
charges for text messaging to bulk charges (per megabyte)
for all data (non-voice connection service) sent or received
by a wireless phone to unlimited data plans for a flat monthly
fee. Carrier by carrier, most of these services require a
separate subscription. In some carriers, the most popular
Data Services are often featured in bundles or packages suited
to typical wireless customer profiles, for example Instant
Messaging or Wireless Calendar or Contact Book Synchronization.
A customer planning to use their wireless phone for more
than just talk can find some very significant savings in
reviewing these optional services or packages carefully.
Choose Local Plans
The most geographically limited plans where a customer would
pay extra for any wireless phone use outside of a relatively
small local carrier network service area, typically a metropolitan
area and the adjacent suburbs. Many local plans do not include
long distance but will connect any long distance calls with
a per-minute surcharge in addition to any applicable Talk
Time minutes. While these plans carry the lowest basic monthly
fees, frequent out-of-area travel use (Roaming) or long distance
surcharges can make monthly bills skyrocket above the cost
of comparable Regional or National plans. Local plans are
most cost-effective when a customer doesn't venture too far
from home or place frequent long distance calls.
Regional Plans typically offer the most economical Talk Time
per-minute rates over a much larger multi-state area or Region,
for example the entire Northeastern or Southwestern U.S.
Only calls placed or received while outside this area will
incur additional Roaming surcharges. While not universal,
more carriers are offering included long distance service
in Regional plans. Customers who frequently call or travel
to regional areas outside their carrier's Local service area
will find the best value in Regional calling plans. Be sure
to check local and regional carrier coverage maps carefully
for calling area eligibility.
Choose National Plans
National Plans carry somewhat higher per-minute rates, but
they permit wireless phone use anywhere in the country with
no extra charge for roaming and/or for long distance calls
when on an approved network. These plans are best for wireless
travelers or customers that are simply willing to pay a bit
more for freedom from worry about where, when and to whom
they are calling.
Shared Plans give two or more wireless customers their own
phone and separate phone numbers, while sharing a common
allowance of minutes. These plans offer a lower cost per
minute than separate wireless plans that add up to the same
number of minutes. As a greater bonus, Shared Plans often
reduce costs by addressing common multi-phone problems, for
example some wireless users frequently exceed their allowance
of minutes, while others don't or some wireless customers
use primarily Peak Minutes while others use more Off-Peak
Minutes. Best of all, Shared Plan usage is summarized on
a single wireless bill. Cumulative call timers and call restriction
capabilities on each phone as well as online network usage
monitors can help Shared Plan customers avoid surprises in
their monthly wireless bill.
Prepaid (also known as Pay-As-You-Go) service is an option
for customers who do not wish to process a credit application
or expect to use their phone very infrequently or only for
emergencies. Prepaid Service per-minute rates can be more
expensive than monthly Local, Regional, National or Shared
Plans and purchased minutes can expire after 90 to 120 days.
On the plus side, Prepaid Service phones are usually inexpensive,
and increasingly stylish and capable models are offered with
standard calling features such as voicemail, call waiting,
as well as optional Data Service features such as Messaging
and Wireless Web similar to those sold with conventional
Today's wireless phones enable you to receive and send instant
messages, check or send e-mails, and synchronize with your PC contacts,
e-mail, calendars, and more. These features make the truly wireless lifestyle
a reality; but they also make keeping your phone secure even more important.
We recommend taking the following steps to make sure that the wealth of
information stored on your wireless phone stays secure:
- Treat your phone like the valuable data vault that
it is. Would you leave your personal directory, calendar,
schedule, or credit information out in the open without
being secured? The same rules should apply to your wireless
- Lock your phone. Most phones have locking features that
prevent strangers from accessing the phones functions or
network services without knowing a user-defined code key.
- Delete sensitive e-mails, text messages, and IM conversations
from your phone. Most phones with messaging capabilities
allow you to limit what's stored in the phone's flash memory.
- Control access to your
phone's short-range wireless features. Infrared and Bluetooth
technology allow you to synchronize to other devices without
cords or cables, but you shouldn't leave these features
on when you aren't using them. Some phones also let you
set passwords or code keys for accessing these functions
either directly or remotely.
Cell Phone Basics
Each Carrier (also known as Service Provider) offers dozens
of wireless phones ranging from inexpensive (often free after
rebates with a new service agreement) to expensive multi-function
Smart Phone devices that cost several hundred dollars. Choosing
among them can be intimidating to anyone, especially without
a basic understanding of the typical and sometimes more exclusive
features that distinguish one model from the next. Deciding
which are features most important will help you select the
cell phone that best meets your needs.
Size and Weight
Wireless phones are generally much smaller and lighter than
their predecessors of just a few years ago, and they still
come in a wide range of sizes and shapes. Tiny phones that
weigh less than three ounces contrast markedly with Smart
Phones that make capable handheld organizers and tip the
scales at nearly half a pound. Ultra-compact phones are the
easiest to carry and slip comfortably into a shirt pocket
or a evening clutch. However, some users prefer a phone with
a more substantial feel to it, with a larger screen that
is easier to read and keypad that is more comfortable to
use. Think about how you'll use and carry your phone when
considering the size and weight that's right for you.
Most modern phones are either bar shaped or feature a clamshell
design that flips open to reveal an internal screen and keypad.
Clamshell phones can be more compact without sacrificing
display and keypad size, though there are several popular
bar shaped phones that fit in the ultra-compact category.
The clamshell designs protect the phone's display when not
in use, and some feature an additional external display that
can show Caller ID, phone information or network status.
A few innovative designs fall outside these two categories
with features such as sliding covers, QWERTY keyboards, or
twist-open swivel type mechanisms. Outside of overall appearance
and mechanical differences, there are very few functional
advantages from one style to the next, and design selections
are often based on personal preference.
Your local service area may feature a wealth of available
carrier options, and it may not. Each carrier uses a predominant
technology for providing cellular service to its wireless
customers. There are some technical differences between the
two predominant technologies in use-CDMA (used by Verizon
Wireless, Sprint PCS, Nextel, Alltel, CellularOne, and Western
Wireless) and GSM (used by Cingular and T-Mobile and others
including most of the carriers in Europe and Asia). However
the general performance characteristics of both are comparable,
and the only real significance is that these technologies
are incompatible with each other. That means that as a customer
you can't buy a phone from one carrier and subsequently use
it on another carrier's network.
If the ability to use your phone overseas ( international
roaming) is important to you, consider the GSM network carriers
and a "world-band" phone that also works on the
GSM frequencies used abroad. These carriers and phones allow
you to make and receive calls while traveling in many countries
in Europe and Asia, though usually at a much higher cost
As a subset of the CDMA compatible choices, Nextel iDEN phones
feature a widely-known and often indispensable push-to-talk
option (walkie-talkie) feature. However, while most other
CDMA compatible phones are at least capable of Roaming on
other CDMA host carrier networks, Nextel iDEN phones only
work within Nextel network service areas. If there is no
Nextel network signal present, a Nextel iDEN phone will not
work at all.
Screen Size and Color
Larger screens that display sixty-five or even two-hundred
sixty-two thousand colors are increasingly common, even on
inexpensive cell phones. These bright, colorful displays
can make it somewhat easier to read and navigate increasingly
extensive feature phone menus, and they make a significant
difference when using Data Services such as Instant Messaging,
sharing Digital Photos or Wireless Web Browsing. However,
phones with dual color displays are generally more expensive
to purchase at the beginning and often have reduced talk
time and standby capacity due to increased power consumption.
With current battery technologies, even the most inexpensive
phones deliver hours of talk time and multiple days of standby
operation (phone power on to receive incoming calls). Even
so, if a customer spends several hours each day talking on
the phone, they would benefit from the longer life of an
extended-capacity battery. Phone use, network conditions
and a number of other conditions (even the weather) affect
battery life and talk time duration. While most wireless
phones approach the maximum battery life figures provided
by manufacturers and carriers, these numbers should be only
be used as comparative measures between different models.
Typically separate figures are provided for talk time and
standby operation. Customers who use their phones a lot should
seek out a phone with a greater talk time capacity or purchase
an extended-capacity battery if available. Wireless subscribers
who are frequently away from their home or office for long
stretches should consider a phone with a longer standby capacity
or purchase an additional travel charger for their home or
car charger for their automobile.
Phone Book Capacity
Every modern wireless phone has the ability to store names
and phone numbers at their fingertips in an electronic phone
book. Basic models can store a few hundred names and numbers
while phones geared toward business users provide more complete
contact management with capacity for postal addresses, multiple
phone numbers, email addresses and even photo IDs for as
many as 500 contacts. For many GSM phones that feature SIM
card operation, additional contacts can be stored on directly
on the SIM card itself, ready for transport to new equipment
Today wireless phones are more than just communication tools;
they are frequently fashion statements or expressions of
personal style. Many wireless phones offer interchangeable
covers, a selection of graphics or photos that can adorn
the screen or a choice of customizable ringtones-samples
of music or other sounds to replace the standard beeps, chirps
or rings that tell you someone is calling. Many phones allow
users to assign specific rings to individual callers whose
names and numbers are stored in the phone's directory. While
these feature do not improve the sound quality or reception
of a wireless phone, they can be fun, inexpensive expressions
of style and personal creativity.
The most common, non-phone function available on wireless
phones is the ability to send and receive short text messages
to and from other wireless phones. Sometimes called SMS (
Short Message Service), this capability can be handy for
sending short, discreet messages to someone who's not free
to take a phone call and is unable to access their email.
Typing messages on a phone's numeric keypad can be time consuming,
even with predictive text entry (software that helps type
your messages by guessing what words you are trying to enter
and completing them for you automatically). Through agreements
among the carriers and limited to about 150 characters, SMS
messages can be sent to any wireless phone user, regardless
of which carrier they use. Several more advanced forms of
messaging permit embedded or attached graphics, digital photos,
music clips or other multi-media content. Known as EMS (Enhanced
Messaging Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)
only work on specially equipped wireless phones and often
only between compatible phones from the same carrier.
Almost universally available in some form or another, Wireless
Web Browsing allows a customer to view and navigate through
Web pages specially formatted for viewing on small cell phone
screens. Wireless Web users should note that while the browser
software is typically included with a capable wireless phone,
actual access to the Web requires and extra-cost subscription
from the carrier.
The most popular feature on today's wireless phones is a
integrated Digital Camera. While not all are suitable for
framing, these small format photos can be reviewed on the
phone's display or shared with friends and family via email,
the Web or by sending them to similarly equipped phones.
An increasing number of wireless phones are coming equipped
with 1+ megapixel cameras with advanced photo editing features
and a built-in flash. These advanced camera phones are capable
of taking and storing images that will print respectably
on 4x6 photo paper.
While they are certainly not substitutes for conventional
digital or film-based cameras for capturing memorable moments,
having a camera with you everywhere you go can be both useful
and fun. It doesn't cost anything to snap and display photos
on the phone's screen, but sending photos via email, MMS
or Web-based photo-sharing services typically requires a
subscription from the carrier and or a third-party service.
Customers should note that , airtime used transmitting or
transferring photos and other data may be charged against
your allowance of talk time.
Push-To-Talk Service (Direct Connect/Two-Way Radio)
Push-To-Talk Service allows subscribers to instantly connect
with each other walkie-talkie style without dialing the 10-digit
phone number. Carrier plans that offer this feature usually
provide a separate allowance of minutes for the service in
addition to the allowance of Talk Time minutes in the calling
plan. Nextel is the most popular of the carriers to feature
push-to-talk service, featuring DirectConnect(tm) capability
on every one of their iDEN wireless phones. Verizon and Sprint
also offer Push-To-Talk service, though only on select wireless
phones in their catalogs. Currently, the Push-To-Talk features
only work if both parties subscribe to the service on the
same Carrier network.
- Speed Dialing or One-Touch Dialing
- Allows users to designate a number of stored contacts
for quick one- or two-button dialing of frequently
- Vibrating Alert
- Allows user to set phone to vibrate instead
of ring, providing a silent alert for incoming calls,
especially appropriate for phone use in public places
or meetings where ringing would be inappropriate.
- Permits hands free use of your phone during
a call, especially useful when driving your car. Some
speakerphone models will also respond to voice menu
commands enabling users total hands-free operation
of their wireless phone in everyday situations.
- Voice Dialing
- Enables user to speak a contact name or
number in the phone's address book and prompt the phone
to dial the number automatically without pressing buttons
on the numeric keypad. Coupled with speakerphone capability,
this is another feature that eases hands-free operation
- Voice Recorder
- Records and plays back short spoken notes
or personal memos.
- Enable wireless phone to provide an entertaining
diversion from airport layovers, tedious waiting in
line or other boring situations.
- Downloadable Ringtones and Graphics
- Permits the user to
add new ringtones, screen graphics and other data that
didn't come built into a phone by connecting to a carrier
or a third-party data service and "downloading" directly
into the phone's memory. Some phones are limited to
downloading ringtones and screen graphics, while others
can add games and other software programs, including
productivity tools and relatively sophisticated business
- Ring Tone Melody Composer
- Software program built into
some phones that enables custom composition of melodies
that can be then be saved as user defined ringtones.
- FM Radio or MP3 Player
- Built-in radio tuner or digital
music player for fans of portable music, talk radio
or news broadcasts to listen to their favorite media
through their wireless phone or in stereo with an external
adapter or earbud headphones.
- Instant Messenger
- Popular user-to-user text chatting
service that enables silent two-way conversations with
another user or users using an Internet-connected computer
or cell phone.
- Personal Information Management (PIM)
or Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) Functions
- Varied collections of simple organizational tools such
as an alarm clock, calendar and to-do list to more sophisticated
capabilities that mimic those of a full- handheld computer.
Many inexpensive cell phones and mid-priced models include
the basic organizer functions, and most can be synchronized
with calendar and contact info maintained on a PC. More
sophisticated wireless phone/PDA combinations with integrated
microprocessors and advanced software capabilities typically
cost several hundred dollars.
- Infrared Connection
- Permits a direct line-of-sight connection
to another wireless phone, handheld or laptop computer.
Primarily for exchanging and synchronizing phonebook
or calendar data, an Infrared Connection can also be
used in wireless multiplayer gaming. Particularly useful
feature with PC-based contact management or calendar
software that can keep the same data stored and updated
on a wireless phone.
- Bluetooth Connection
- Local radio based direct wireless
connection similar to Infrared, though with increased
range and transfer speed and not requiring line-of-sight
alignment. Allows links to other Bluetooth enabled
devices including phones, headsets, laptops, printers
and other devices. Also primarily for exchanging or
synchronizing phonebook or calendar data, a Bluetooth
Connection is also increasingly used in wireless multiplayer
- Global Positioning System or GPS
- Enables carrier
to use signals from GPS satellites to pinpoint the
geographic location of the device in the event of an
emergency, or increasingly for user-defined location