Cellphone Service Buyer's Guide
were once strictly for people with expensive hangups, but thats
no longer the case. They dont give these handy little gadgets away
in cereal boxes yet, but over the past decade or so theyve dropped
in price from multiple-thousands of dollars to about $150Cdn. And, as
with most other things electronic, their list of features and capabilities
Coverage is also much
more universal, though it still isnt everywhere, and competition
from various service providers is heating up. All of this is good news
for consumers, who can now get into a cellphone for little more per month
than a regular land line.
Of course, its
also a jungle out there, with various claims and mucho hype, so it doesnt
hurt to do a little homework before plunking down that debit card.
Heres some timely
TechnoFILE advice for cellphone shoppers:
First, figure out
your "calling pattern." This will help you get the best airtime plan for
your lifestyle (or "business-style"). If you only want the phone for emergencies,
your needs will obviously be a lot different than if youll be using
it as your primary business communications tool.
According to a U.S.
study, the average cellphone user uses about 80 minutes of airtime a month,
60 per cent of which is used in the evenings or on weekends. This makes
the "free" evenings and weekends packages attractive.
Then again, Canadian
industry officials claim new users rarely use their cellphones for more
than one hour a month, with about the same weekday/evening/weekend breakdown.
We would tend to think this may not be true, however, as whenever we have
a new toy we tend to use the hell out of it until the novelty wears off
(or the first bill comes in!).
The most popular cellphone
offers right now include "free" (read "included in the price") talk time
in the evening or on the weekends, and many include from 50 to 400 minutes
"free" (see above regarding "free") use any time.
Until you really know
how much youll use the phone, youre probably best served starting
with a cheaper plan that offers some free talk time. Then, keep an eye
on your bills and get ready to upgrade your plan if you find youre
consistently using up all your "free" time.
One of TechnoFILEs
staffers has 100 minutes a month in his plan, and rarely (if ever) exceeds
that. Then again, he isnt a real gossiper, either!
Some cellphone companies
will actually track your calling patterns for you and recommend another
plan once you've outgrown the first one. Remember to check their recommendations,
however, to ensure its whats best for you, and not for them.
If you want a cellphone
just for emergencies, most service providers offer special packages --
such as prepaid plans -- that help keep costs down for occasional users.
One feature thats
really handy for the cost conscious (or convenience conscious) is voice-mail.
Why? Batteries don't
last forever and you don't want to risk decapitation at the hands
of a fellow arts patron if your phone rings during the latest Broadway
musical. Besides, by leaving the phone shut off when you dont specifically
need it you can save airtime charges by checking for messages periodically
instead of jumping every time the cellphone rings.
Some cellphone companies
bundle features like voice-mail and caller ID, into the monthly fee. Some
dont, so you should check this out.
Its also a good
idea to get a "dual-mode" phone, which combines analogue and digital coverage
into a single unit. Why? The older, analogue phones often suffer from
poor sound quality, crowded frequencies, limited battery life and a lack
of security. Digital phones offer a cleaner, more secure signal with better
battery life but have limited range because most digital networks
are still confined to major metropolitan areas.
The dual-mode phone
switches seamlessly to analogue mode when it leaves the digital coverage
area, which gives you the best of both technologies.
Whatever airtime plan
you choose, be sure to watch out for hidden charges. Many cellphone companies
are offering some apparently unbelievable deals, which in itself should
set off alarm bells. So don't believe what they say until you find out
about any other that may not be mentioned in the blurbs.
For instance, there
can be activation fees, licence fees, "roaming" fees (extra charges inflicted
when youre outside your home area), smart card fees, daily usage
fees, charges for incoming calls etc. etc. etc. Adding call-forwarding,
paging, or any number of other neat services can also add to your bill.
If you do a lot of
travelling, youll be especially concerned about roaming charges
and even telephone compatibility in other countries. The more established
cellphone companies should have long-standing agreements with foreign
carriers, so their cellphones should offer better service abroad
but this isnt necessarily the case. Check it out.
Then, once your handy
dandy new cellphone is up and running, you can phone yourself silly.
Just remember, the
cellphone is a tool to serve you not the other way around. Dont
be afraid to turn it off and be careful where you use it: driving
one-handed while jawing on the phone is a recipe for disaster.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think