Wireless phones, once a luxury of the high-powered business elite, have invaded every space of our lives. The checker at the grocery store uses one. The person sitting behind you at the movies has one. Even your 16-year-old babysitter totes a color-coordinated handset.
With increasing competition, the cost of owning a wireless phone has plunged, making it an affordable option for many callers. “This is a particularly good time to be in the market for a wireless phone,” says Tim Ayers, vice president of communications at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA). The organization estimates that the 100 largest U.S. cities average seven wireless phone companies, each offering a myriad services, telephones and pricing plans. There are over 250 national and regional cellular service providers in the United States. To date, approximately 65 million domestic consumers have signed up for cellular service.
Selecting a service provider, calling plan and phone is now a complicated process, but heavy industry competition means more choices and better values. Although prices and promotions are constantly changing, we’ll show you how to choose between digital and analog service; pick an affordable local or national pricing plan; and decide between a basic phone or one with lots of extra features. Both the novice who wants a cell phone only for emergencies and the wireless veteran in search of newer and better service must keep on top of this ever-changing technology to get the best deal.
SO MANY CHOICES . . .
Kelli Thomas spends a lot of time at Chicago playgrounds on the weekends. She is marketing and publicity coordinator for the nonprofit group KaBoom!, which creates and restores safe places for children to play. Most of the group’s architectural projects occur on weekends, and Thomas needed a cellular phone to check in at the office and work with the volunteers. She decided that analog services were in her price range, with her top three choices being Ameritech Cellular, Cellular One and MCI Wireless. Analog covers more terrain, including rural and outlying areas. It’s usually cheaper than digital and phones are relatively inexpensive, if not free, when you sign up for a calling plan.
Thomas has been largely satisfied with her choice in MCI Wireless service since she signed up last November, but does have occasional complications with her analog service. “I’m somewhat disappointed in how easy I get static or ringing,” says Thomas. “Working downtown, there’s a lot of interference to contend with and it’s frustrating at times.”
Similar problems with his analog wireless service caused Larry Wilson to shop for a digital service provider. Wilson, accounts manager at Creative Promotions Inc. in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, travels frequently to Dallas and Phoenix for the promotional apparel company. Since his cellular phone is a necessity, Wilson wanted better quality, lower rates and a simple calling plan. He saw those qualities in digital service. Digital service reduces the dreaded noise, echo and static commonly associated with analog. It also protects against eavesdropping and service theft and can provide e-mail and news highlights.