Talk 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
Peak 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
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 charges.
Long 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.
(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
Data 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
With few exceptions, most carrier calling plans fall
into one of these categories:
Plans (also known as Family Plans)
Plans (also known as Pay-As-You-Go Plans)
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 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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 if
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.
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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.