Consumers Guide to Cell Phones and Wireless Service Plans

Overview

Choosing the right mobile phone and service plan can be overwhelming, particularly if you travel abroad - this truly international guide is ideal for the mobile executive
Experts estimate that by 2005 there will be over 1.26 billion wireless phone users around the world. (Source: Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association). It's overwhelming to think of the options available to the consumer when it comes to buying mobile phones, phone accessories, and service plans. So ...

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Overview

Choosing the right mobile phone and service plan can be overwhelming, particularly if you travel abroad - this truly international guide is ideal for the mobile executive
Experts estimate that by 2005 there will be over 1.26 billion wireless phone users around the world. (Source: Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association). It's overwhelming to think of the options available to the consumer when it comes to buying mobile phones, phone accessories, and service plans. So many people are confused by the myriad of wireless phone claims, the endless advertised rates and the countless service plans with all their options. The Consumer's Guide to Cell Phones is designed to help consumers choose what program may best suit them. This book helps streamline the wireless-buying process by providing a complete listing of all wireless providers and the details of their plans.
International listings cover USA, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. As an example, in Ireland there is coverage of Digiphone and other plans, in Australia of Telstra, in the UK Cellnet, Orange, etc.

The companion web site for the book includes a service provider database
As the mobile market continues to grow more people are looking to use their phone for fax, e-mail or mobile computing - this book has the answers

Consumers can be overwhelmed by the myriad wireless options available. This book outlines the six steps of shopping for a wireless service. It then provides a miniguide with reviews of the wireless carriers and options available. It is the only book that is both a comprehensive guide and a source for answers to all of the consumer's questions.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781928994527
  • Publisher: Elsevier Science
  • Publication date: 1/1/2002
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Table of Contents

Chapter 1
How to Choose a Wireless Phone and Service
Chapter 2
Analog, Digital—What’s the Difference?
Chapter 3
CDMA to TDMA—Digital Terms and Basic Definitions
Chapter 4
Wireless Data and the Wireless Internet—Do I Need It?
Chapter 5
The Components of a Wireless Phone
Chapter 6
Guide to Wireless Phones
Chapter 7
Accessories for Your Wireless Phone
Chapter 8
Understanding Service Plans
Chapter 9
Service Providers and Service Areas
Chapter 10
Traveling: Your Domestic and International Roaming Options
Chapter 11
Understanding Special Deals and Promotions
Chapter 12
Frequently Asked Questions
Chapter 13
The Future of Wireless Communications
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Introduction

How to Choose a Wireless Phone and Service

Quick References in this chapter:

* In the Beginning: An Introduction to Wireless
* Getting Started
* Assessing Your Coverage Needs
* What Comes First, the Phone or the Service?
* Usage Considerations
* The Bottom Line: Understanding Cost
* Bargain Shopping: Looking at Promotions
* Bells and Whistles: Looking at Accessories
* Making Sense of it All: The Phone and Plan for Me
* Summary
* Quick References

Introduction The only answer to the question “Which wireless phone should I buy?” is, unfortunately, “It depends.” There are so many choices out there today that the only way to select the perfect phone for you is to look at many different factors—put yourself in the middle of the process and figure out how you will use the phone, where and when you will e make most of your calls, and how much you want to spend.

The first thing to realize is that the phone is only as good as the network on which it works. In the “old days” of wireless, a single phone would work on either of the two cellular networks. So, when you plunked down your $1000 for that huge phone and another $80 per month with wireless carrier A, if you did not find their service to your liking, you could walk across the street to their only competitor and switch to the competitor’s network using the same phone. That doesn’t work any more.

In the early 1990s, competitors for the two original cellular companies started to spring up—they were called PCS or Personal Communication Services carriers. The only difference between cellular and PCS is that cellular started out transmitting your call using analog technology andPCS started out using all digital transmissions. Cellular companies have all gone over to digital technologies (see Chapter 2, “Analog, Digital—What’s the Difference?” for more information on analog versus digital technologies), so there really is no difference between the original cellular carriers and the newer totally digital PCS carriers any more. One of the things that digital technology allows the carriers to do is to sell phones that will work only on their network—so the days of walking across the street to sign up on someone else’s network with the same phone are pretty much gone.

Thinking about making the switch to wireless full time and ditching your home phone completely? Well, you are not alone, but you are among a small group of techno-savvy users who are foregoing the wire for the freedom of wireless. And why not? If you buy a wireless plan with 3000 minutes of use included, you have to use them some time, right? Just beware the pitfalls discussed in Chapter 12, “The Future of Wireless.” So, what factors do you need to consider when buying that perfect wireless phone? There are basically six steps that we will detail in this chapter:

1. Look for service providers with Coverage in your area—Where will you use your phone and which wireless carrier has the best service there?

2. Choose the wireless Phone you want and/or need—Do you need all the latest options or do you just need to make calls in an emergency?

3. Make sure you know how you will Use your wireless phone—How many minutes will you use each month and at what time of the day will you use the most minutes? Will you call locally or long distance?

4. Be aware of how much buying and using wireless will Cost—How much are you willing to spend on the monthly service and on the phone?

5. Look for special Promotions—Are there any great deals out there that will get you the best deal for the right phone and plan?

6. Don’t forget your Accessories—Will you need to use a headset for your car, do you need a belt clip or extra batteries?

COMPARING SERVICE PLANS AND PHONES

For the latest information on wireless service plans and phones, and to compare them side by side, log on to www.GetConnected.com.

In the Beginning: An Introduction to Wireless

Think of the walkie-talkie as the electronic equivalent of taking your first step. For many of us, it was our first introduction into the world of wireless technology. Bewildering and exciting, but more importantly, proof that even at an early age, humankind possessed some sort of inherent need to find new ways to communicate. The walkie-talkie was wildly successful. Fast-forward a few years and we've grown into a more dependable adult version of walkie-talkie called the cordless phone—a true introduction to what has permeated our lifestyles at home, work, and play. But limitations of physical distance prevented us from taking the cordless on the road until miraculously, the cellular, or wireless, phone appeared and now it's a vicious game of catch-up to understand what wireless means to the average Joe.

The Basics

Today's cellular service operates on much the same principle as our earlier walkie-talkie devices. Your voice is still transmitted through the air from point A to point B, but that's where most of the similarities end.

With cellular technology, messages sound clearer, travel farther, and are received by the second party (with a little luck) as if we were next door. And it's all done through a network built by breaking a geographic region into small areas called cells, which include the cellular antennas. Calls are transmitted from the antenna to the wired telephone system until it reaches the target audience on the other end. The term cellular is often used to refer to "traditional cellular" or analog technology (AMPS or Advanced Mobile Phone Service), which utilized a network built at 800 MHz by two service providers, or carriers, in each market. This simply means that 800 MHz is the wavelength or frequency at which your voice travels from your phone to the antenna. It also assures you that whether calling from the beach or from a traffic jam, potentially life-altering commands like "half pepperoni" will be heard at the other end.

The Digital Age

Just when you think that you've got a pretty good handle on what analog is all about, digital technology joins the party. This essentially means a second wireless technology; new terminology, products, and services; yet another learning curve; as well as up to five or six new competitors in each market. But the principle between analog and digital remains basically the same. The two most significant differences are that calls now travel at a frequency of either 800 MHz or 1900MHz and, unlike analog, the digital network breaks down the sender's voice into binary code, transmits it as data, and reassembles it on the other end. These digital networks usually are referred to as Personal Communications Service (PCS) networks, although the traditional cellular carriers also offer digital service, and sometimes call their digital service PCS, also. The relevance of these changes to the every-day consumer is that this break-through affects everything from call quality to network access, and features like caller ID, Internet access, and extended battery life.

Getting Started

Getting fitted for a wireless service provider, plan, and a compatible phone is as easy as doing some painless homework before you buy. We've made the following descriptions as clear as possible for you to understand before you make an educated buying decision, get hooked up, charge your battery, and get ready for the air waves. To make sure you have all the latest, up-to-date phone and plan information, you should use online resources like www.GetConnected.com, the leading communication resource with exhaustive lists of plans and services that empower you, the user, to make the right decision for your lifestyle.

CHOOSE A SERVICE PLAN THAT BEST MEETS YOUR DAY-TO-DAY NEEDS How many calls will I make each day? Where will I call—local or long distance? Will I travel out of my local area with my phone? Do I need my phone to act as a pager, also? Make sure your service plan and your phone meet your day-to-day needs.

* Usage When will you use your phone? This can be a real money-saving decision. Most wireless networks operate at or near capacity during peak business hours, and carriers typically charge users for every second they tie up a circuit. If you use your cellular phone heavily at night and on weekends, many carriers cater to that need by offering off-peak specials of 300, 500, or even 1000 minutes of evening and weekend calling for a nominal fee with the purchase of a standard service plan. These packages can be real money savers if used as intended, but beware: different providers define peak, off-peak, and weekend hours differently.

* Traveling/Roaming Do you travel a lot? If you travel outside of your local/home area or service provider network, you can incur roaming charges, which means a surcharge will be applied for calls made and received while out of your home area and your local rate plan costs no longer apply. The good news is that most carriers have plans that cover beyond your local calling area. From regional plans (i.e., Northeast, West Coast, etc.) to national plans, the monthly fees generally are based on the size of the coverage area, and, though more expensive each month than local plans, these plans can be worth it if you expect to incur expensive roaming fees. * Traveling Abroad U.S. digital phones are mostly incompatible with worldwide networks except for parts of Mexico and Canada, where some of the same technology standards are used. If your phone has analog capability (i.e., it is an analog-only or dual/tri-mode phone), it could work in some Caribbean countries, although it may not receive calls. Europe and parts of Asia use mainly a standardized digital network called GSM. Phones built with GSM technology can access the network, regardless of the caller's country of origin, although each wireless carrier has their own charges for roaming into other countries and the phone has to be programmed to work at the frequency of that country.

Assessing Your Coverage Needs

You may have seen the coolest phone being used by your best friend yesterday, but unless you have wireless coverage where you are going to use your phone, it may end up being an expensive paperweight. There are many ways to find out which wireless carriers offer service in your area—TV and newspaper ads, junk mail and inserts, and online sites that show you the coverage maps for each company (see Chapter 9, “Service Providers and Service Areas” for detailed maps). The problem with all these indicators of the companies that say they offer service at your house is that you don’t truly know how their service works where you want it to work just by looking at a map.

Your Friends Are Your Best Resource

The best way to tell who has the best coverage where you need it (home, school, work, downtown, etc.) is to talk to your friends. Even if you call each wireless carrier in your area (up to seven or eight companies!), they will, of course, tell you that they have the best coverage exactly where you need it—even though they may not have any coverage there. There is nothing more frustrating than buying a phone with a zillion included minutes for $25 per month when you cannot use it anywhere you want to use it.

The questions to ask your friends about their wireless phones should be about their experiences with their phones specifically where you want to use yours. Ask if the calls were clear or if they were hard to hear (a sign of poor coverage). Ask if they had trouble making the call and received many busy signals (a sign of low capacity—not many people can make calls at the same time). Here are some starting places:

1. Can you use your phone in your house?
2. Can you use your phone in your office?
3. Can you use your phone in school?
4. Does your call ever get disconnected or “drop” when you are traveling—if so where? 5. Can you use your phone reliably any time of the day or do you get busy signals at certain times, like heavy commuter times (7 A.M. to 9 A.M. or 4:30 P.M. to 7 P.M.)?
6. Does your phone work where you travel—for example if you take trips to the mountains, the beach, the mall, and so on?
Which Comes First, the Phone or the Service?

Should you look for a phone first or a rate plan and wireless carrier? The problem with buying a phone first is that you don’t know if it will work on the network that gives you the best coverage. Having said that, it is common for people to see a phone being used by a friend or co-worker, or on TV or in a magazine, and to be completely fixated on buying that phone. That’s not a problem—just realize that it may limit the places you can get the best use out of your phone. If you’ve got to have that really cool red phone that you saw Billy using, then that is how you need to start shopping.

Buying the wireless phone that is perfect for you is a big piece of getting into wireless. You can spend lots of money on a wireless phone with all the latest features, or you can get a phone that is practically free with limited bells and whistles. The options seem to be limitless—large phones, small phones, phones with speaker phones built in, phones that can surf the Web. The choice is yours. Look at:

* Size
* Weight
* Color
* Networks available
* Features
If you do not have any specific phone in mind, you should do a little research to make sure you are buying a phone that will suit your needs. Chapter 5, “Guide to Wireless Phones” describes some of the phones available in the United States right now, but as with any electronic device, there are new models coming out all the time, so be sure to check www.GetConnected.com for the latest phones available.

What Features Do You Need in a Wireless Phone?

When choosing a phone or a service provider, the same is true—ask your friends. People who have wireless phones are great resources when you are looking for a phone. Ask them how the phone works, whether it is too heavy, if you can see the numbers on the screen easily, and so on. Be sure to think about all the things you can do with a wireless phone and whether those things are important to you (see Chapter 5, “Guide to Wireless Phones”).

Here is a short list of the features that you may want to use with your new phone:

* Wireless Internet Access The ability to look at certain Web sites.
* Short Message Service (SMS) and E-Mail The ability to send and receive short messages and text e-mails.
* Speaker Phone Some phones allow you to use them as a speaker phone.
* Two-way Radio Service Nextel offers a “push to talk” service that lets your phone work like a walkie-talkie for quick, cheap conversations between two or more people.
* Downloading Different Ring Tones You can customize the way your phone rings, from a popular song to a classical hit.

What about the Technical Side of the Phone?

When you are looking at a phone, you also want to make sure its technical specifications meet your needs. These are things like the expected battery life, the ability to add a headset, the size of the screen, and more. You can see all the details of each phone at www.GetConnected.com, but here is a short list of what you should consider:

* Size considerations including the height and the weight of the phone
* Expected battery life for talk time and standby time
* Lines of text and characters per line on the screen (how big the screen is and how big the numbers are on the screen)
* Internet capabilities
* Messaging capabilities
Usage Considerations

The most important thing to understand, but the toughest to figure out, is how you will use your phone. If you do a little simple planning now, you will save some money in the selection of your monthly service plan. Will you use it only when you get a flat tire and need to call for help? Or will you use it from dawn to dusk as your only phone? Will you call long distance or just locally? How about international calls?

Rate plans offer the most confusing set of choices yet—peak time, off-peak time, long distance included, roaming costs, wireless data, and so on. To make sure that you buy the service that you need, you need to look at how you will use your phone and make sure that you buy only what you need. The majority of wireless users do not even come close to using the minutes that the service providers give them in their rate plan. How can you possibly use 3000 minutes on your wireless phone? It is nice to have all these minutes, just in case, but if you can pay $10 less per month, you can save $120 per year!

Your Day-to-Day Use

When you really think about it, you can pretty much tell when, where, and how you will be using your phone. Set up a schedule based on your use that will follow the basic parameters of the wireless rate plans.

* How many peak minutes of calling do you need (typically between 7:00 A.M. and 7:00 P.M.)?
* What are your needs for off-peak minutes of calling (7:01 P.M. to 6:59 A.M. and sometimes all day Saturday and Sunday)?
* What percent of your calls will be local calls?
* What percent of your calls will be long distance?
* How often do you think you will use your phone when you are outside of your local calling area (roaming)?


An example of such a schedule can be seen in Table 1.1. Table 1.1 Sample Schedule Illustrating Potential Phone Use

Peak Hours Off-Peak Hours


Weekdays 4 calls 2 calls
Weekends — 8 calls
Times Days per Week x 5 days (2 x 5 days) + (8 x 2 days)
Total Calls per Week 20 calls 26 calls
Times 4 Weeks per Month = 80 calls 104 calls
Times 2 Minutes (avg. call length) = x 2 x 2
Total Monthly Minutes 160 minutes 208 minutes
Local Calls (70%) 112 minutes 146 minutes
Long Distance Calls (30%) 48 minutes 62 minutes
Percent Roaming Use (10%) 16 minutes 21 minutes


You can put the information from Table 1.1 into the Wireless Wizard at www.GetConnected.com to see all the latest service plans that match your intended use. You can also use this information to make sure that any rate plan you are considering has all the minutes you need to use when you need to use them, how you intend to use them, and where you intend to use them. For this example, make sure that there are at least 160 minutes of peak minutes, 208 off-peak minutes, and that the costs for long distance and roaming are not too high if they are not included. Some plans will include long distance and roaming minutes so you don’t have to pay anything extra, but the majority of plans charge extra for each.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more details on service plans, see Chapter 8, “Understanding Service Plans” or visit www.GetConnected.com.

The Bottom Line: Understanding Cost

When you are considering cost while picking the perfect phone and plan, realize that there are many different costs involved: phone cost, monthly service plan cost, activation fee, cancellation fee, long distance, roaming, overage costs (using more minutes than are provided in your rate plan). See Chapter 8, “Understanding Service Plans” for full details. First, you need to have a feeling for the basics that constitute the major costs: the phone and the rate plan.

How Much to Spend on the Phone

When looking at the phones available you will see phones that are free, or effectively free with rebates and credits (see Chapter 11, “Understanding Special Deals and Promotions”), and you will see phones that are very expensive, which can act as two-way pagers, personal digital assistants, and may even wash your car if programmed correctly. Free phones almost always have a required contract, or length of service agreement of one or two years. If you are looking to get into wireless on the cheap, then a free phone may work for you, even with the contract. If you want your phone to send e-mail, cruise the Web, and play Beethoven when it rings, you will have to pay from $100 on up for the phone. For the details on the wireless phones, see Chapter 5, “Guide to Wireless Phones.”

How Much to Spend on the Rate Plan

Every month you will be charged for your wireless use. If you stay within your allowed minutes, then you will pay the expected amount that you sign up for (plus some taxes and fees that are charged by all carriers, usually a few dollars), but if you use more minutes than allowed in your plan, you will be billed for the extra minutes at premium prices and get a bill potentially much higher than you expect. That is why it is important to think about your use prior to signing up for your service.

You can spend as little as $20 or so and as much as $200 or more per month based on the amount of use you will have. Check out www.GetConnected.com for the latest in phones and service plans.

WHAT ABOUT PREPAID?

Prepaid wireless is a great way to get a wireless phone with no credit history, no credit card, and for a short periods of use. Prepaid is perfect for:

* Students and children
* Gifts (no long-term contract needed)
* Short-term use, for example when you need a phone for three months
* Very little monthly use (be careful to make sure the minutes don’t expire)
For more information on prepaid wireless, see Chapter 8, “Understanding Service Plans.”

Bargain Shopping: Understanding Promotions

Every wireless service provider offers promotions throughout the year to entice you to sign up for service. They may offer a free phone, a special weekends-free package, or free accessories. When you are looking to sign up for service and have an idea of which service you think you want, which phones work on that service, how you will use the phone, and how much you are willing to pay, you need to look at the available promotions. Sometimes these promotions can save you hundreds of dollars over the life of your wireless use. But beware of promotions that are not exactly what you are looking for, such as those that may tie you into a long term contract, offer features that you won’t use, or add minutes that you could never use even if you speak constantly every waking moment.

For a complete breakdown on promotions, see the details in Chapter 11, “Understanding Special Deals and Promotions,” and get the latest available promotions from www.GetConnected.com.

Bells and Whistles: Looking at Accessories

The last things to consider when buying your new phone are the accessories that you may need to make it perfect for you. Ask yourself these questions to determine if you need these accessories:

* Will I use the phone while driving? If Yes, get a car kit or a headset (many phones already come with some sort of hands-free head set, so be sure not to buy an extra if it is included).
* Will I use the phone a lot while driving? If Yes, then get a car charger or a car kit.
* Do I need to use my phone for long times while away from my charger? If Yes, then buy an extra battery and make sure it is a long-life battery.
* Will I need to charge my phone in more than one place? If Yes, then buy a charger for your office or home.
* Will I need to carry my phone with me all the time? If Yes, then buy a leather case for protection with a clip or a belt clip that hooks onto the battery.
* Do I want to personalize my phone with different colors? If Yes, then buy a faceplate for your phone—there are many colors available for some of today’s popular phones.

For more information on the myriad of accessories available for wireless phones, refer to Chapter 7, “Accessories for Your Wireless Phones.” Making Sense of It All: The Phone and Plan for Me

So—confused? Buying wireless is not a simple process designed to make sure you get the phone and service plan that you need. All wireless carriers try to differentiate themselves from their competitors and by doing so, they do not make it simple to compare their plans to other similar plans. The information in this guide will help you make an educated purchase for the rate plan that fits your needs and the phone that will do all that you need it to do. Why pay for a $60 plan when you only need a $40 plan? Why buy a $200 phone when all you need is a $40 phone? These are the questions that we help you figure out.

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