Time (also known as Air Time) is the total amount phone use,
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 rates.
Minutes (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.
Off-Peak Minutes (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.
Roaming 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
Distance 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.
Mobile-to-Mobile Minutes (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.
Services 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.
Types of Calling Plans
With few exceptions, most carrier calling plans fall into one of these categories:
Shared Plans (also known as Family
Prepaid Plans (also known as Pay-As-You-Go
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
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.
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
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 calling plans.
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 phone.
- 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 per minute talk time.
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
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
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 called numbers.
- 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.
- Speakerphone - 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 while driving.
- Voice Recorder -
Records and plays back short spoken notes or personal memos.
- Games - 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 applications.
- 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 gaming.
- 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 based services.