Dial Again

Choosing the right cellular phone provider

Tonya K. Payton, owner of S&S Associates, a public relations and event planning firm in New York, needed cellular phone service for herself and her four employees. She negotiated free long distance and additional free minutes. Payton averages 3,000 to 4,000 minutes a month, while her four employees each average about 2,500 minutes monthly.

According to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, an estimated 117.5 million Americans have cell phones. Each day, more people are becoming wireless. As such, cell phone service providers are fervently vying for your business. With the abundance of options and promotions available, finding the right service can be confusing, particularly when each provider may offer up to 10 different plans.

So how do you find the service that’s right for you? Whether you’re looking for phone service for personal use or business, get recommendations from family, friends, and co-workers. Visit Websites like www.wirelessadvisor.com, www.wirelessconsumers.org, and www.point.com. You can also log on to the providers’ respective sites. They explain the various types of plans and can help you find the best plan in your area. But don’t hit the stores just yet. First, ask yourself these questions:

How often will I use the phone? Daily or just for emergencies? This will determine the amount of minutes you’ll need. The average monthly cell phone bill is around $45. Incoming calls also count as minutes.

When will I use the phone most? Some plans offer free weekends and nights (off-peak). But if you make most of your calls on weekdays, during the day (peak), those free minutes would be of little benefit. If you use your phone for business, ask for a plan with “anytime minutes,” where there are no specified times for phone usage.

Do I need special features? Call waiting, voicemail, and text messaging, among many other features, cost extra.

What type of phone do I want? Digital calls are clearer than analog but not yet available in many rural parts of the country. Most companies provide analog connections, which allow you to connect in areas where digital is not available. Analog calls are less secure, though, and may pick up more static. Digital PCS offers service on a higher frequency range, which allows for international calls and Internet connections. Some plans offer dual ability, analog and digital phones.

What do I want to spend monthly? There is a monthly fee that varies among plans. Your service price is based on how long you talk, the number of long-distance calls you make, how much you use your phone, and whether you call inside or outside of your service provider’s calling area.

You will also need to determine whether a national or regional plan is best suited to your needs. A national plan is better for those who do a lot of traveling and may have to make long-distance calls. There is another option, says Richard Sayers, editor and founder of 10-10PhoneRates.com, a site that analyzes the lowest phone service rates. “For people with a cell phone plan that charges more for long-distance calls

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