Cell phone plan

First of all, how do you do a search in these forums for something like “cell phone plans”? I tried using AND, as in: cell AND phone AND plans, but that found me everything with any of the three words in it. I also tried quotes around “cell phone plans”, but that did no better.

So if I’m asking a question that has already been discussed, please forgive me!

My wife and I are thinking about ditching our normal phone line and getting a pair of cell phones for all of our phoning. We live in a rural area, and travel around the country quite a bit. If any of you have any advice for us, I’d be grateful! I’ll answer any further questions if you need more info, too.

Sprint PCS has some decent family plans where you get a bucketload of shared minutes each month. One of the plans that sticks out is a 500 anytime, unlimited nights and weekends, and unlimited PCS to PCS calling for $45 a month plus $20 a month for the additional phone number (your wife). They also have a buy one get one free thingy going on right now on their phones.

First of all make sure you go with a carrier that provides decent analog service. Verizon Wireless (yay) and AT&T are pretty good. Just make sure you don’t go with one of AT&T’s next generation plans that give you nationwide roaming, but only on their GSM network.

The potential problem with your location is the whole dropping into analog issue. Until recently carriers were required to maintain analog networks, so even though some carriers (sprint) may have charged you through the nose to use it, at least you got service. Recently the FCC dropped the analog service requirement they had imposed so people living in rural areas may or may not be up a creek as carriers go all digital. Just make sure the phone you get is dual or tri mode, and not dual band.

All the major carriers have a return policy of about 15 days so that you can try out the service and see if it works in your area. Be extra careful of catches though. Make sure that the return policy is a set amount of days, and not some kind of “15 days, or 30 minutes airtime, whichever comes first” deal that some have had in the past. Also check if they’ll credit you back the activation fee. Hell, if you’re going with a 2 year contract there should be no need for an activation fee at all.

As far as plans go, they’re all pretty close. Jim mentioned a Sprint plan that is basically exactly the same as one we have at Verizon (700 peak, unlim n/w, 1,000 mobile to mobile, free nationwide ld for $49.99 plus $20 for each additional phone). One thing people get too obsessed about are the number of minutes they’re getting. If you want minutes go with some startup carrier that gives you unlimited minutes for $35. But you get what you pay for, so be careful. When signing up be on the lookout for these sneaky tactics:

1: Promotions that drop off after your contract is over. And if you want the promotion back you have to renew your contract.
2: Getting charged for calling customer service.
3: Having to pay for basic extras like voice mail, caller ID, call waiting etc
4: “Processing charges” for exchanging defective equipment in the store.
5: Try to sign up at direct stores, not indirect agents (like Radio Shack). A lot of times the indirect may have a lower price, but they also have additional services charges and their own equipment contract in addition to the one you sign with the cell phone carrier.
6: Having to pay full price for a phone upgrade after your contract is over.

I’m sure there’s more but I can’t think of them at the moment. Just be careful, take time to read your entire contract, sign up for cell phone insurance (a $10 phone doesn’t cost $10 if you break it and have to buy it at full retail because you didn’t want to pay $3.95 a month for insurance), and make sure you like the phone you get. Also do a little research on your phone to make sure you’re getting one that works well in rural areas. Nokias, for example, aren’t known for handling themselves very well in analog areas. Kyocera and Motorola are mostly good for those types of areas though. Oh, and finally, decide whether battery life or looks is more important to you. If you buy a color phone your battery life will be significantly less than a standard black & white phone, and things just get worse if you go into analog (might want to spring for an extended life battery while you’re at it).

Anyway, sorry for rambling, as my friends know I can(and do) talk cell phones non-stop. Lemme know if you have any other questions, cell phones are a nightmare sometimes so there’s no such thing as a silly question.

As far as network coverage goes, I’d definitely recommend Verizon first and foremost, unless you know for a fact it’s horrible in your area. Best coverage in the nation and good clarity. They don’t have as many whiz-bang phones and as aggressive plan pricing as some of the other companies like T-Mobile or Cingular, but their phones will actually work in most areas.

If you’re looking at color-screen phone models, the LG VX4400 has the best battery life of the major color Verizon phones out there (Motorola T720, Audiovox 9500, Samsung A530). Its form factor is slightly bigger, and its screen isn’t as sharp as the Audiovox 9500 (which only gets 80 mins talk time, and less than a day of standby time), but it’s a decent phone overall. I’m a sucker for Samsung phones, and the A530 has a color external screen as well as internal, but it doesn’t have an analog mode so I’d rule that one out. The Motorola T720 has a lot of accessories available for it, as well as the strong Motorola reputation, but the casing on it feels a bit weak to me, like one good bump will break it.

For non-color phones, the Motorola V60 line is excellent - small form factor, hard casing, great pickup, and a ton of accessories available. I have the Samsung A310, which is a solid phone overall, but after 8 months of ownership its battery really doesn’t last too long anymore. The Samsung interface is superior to the Motorola one, but that’s just IMO.

Whatever service you decide to go with, though, I’d really have to warn you against either T-Mobile or Sprint PCS, as both of them have the smallest networks of any of the cellular service providers. Sprint is really aggressive on their phones, though, with lots of bells-and-whistles built in, and T-Mobile is similar, with more aggressive plan pricing as well; unfortunately, neither of them have any significant non-city coverage to back up their hardware.

For a very short while, I worked a second job selling Cingular Wireless phones, and found the sales attitude there extremely, extremely slimy. I’d avoid Cingular based on that alone.

As far as AT&T goes, I honestly don’t have a lot of info about them, except that they have the 2nd largest wireless network in the country (after Verizon).


Oh, and as far as plans go, with Verizon at least, you can change your plan at any time, although they may extend the end date of your contract in turn. For example, say you start off with a $39.99 plan (400 daytime mins, unlimited nights/weekends, 1000 mobile-to-mobile), but find out a month later that you use about 700 minutes daytime every month. So you call up Verizon and switch to a $59.99 plan (800 daytime, unlimited nights/weekends, 1000 mobile-to-mobile). They’ll allow you to switch, but may tack on an extra month to the end date of your contract as it’s treated as if your plan switch started your contract over from the day of the switch.

If that’s okay with you, you might want to start off with a lower-priced plan at first, gauge how much airtime you actually use in a month, and change plans accordingly. OTOH, plan promotions tend to change on a monthly basis, so it’s almost a gamble on whether or not the plans will get better or worse in the next month.

Thanks very much for the replies! I will read them soon in more detail, but for now, let me just say that it looks like Verizon is the only carrier with reliable service in my area (southwest New York). Glad to read that Verizon is a good option.

More soon…

If you don’t mind spending a lot of money on a phone, check out Verizon’s Kyocera 7135. It packs a Palm OS 4.1 PDA into a thick Startac-style package. The cool thing about it is that you can browse the web, check email, and even handle Word and Excel attachments, etc. They also have an optional, folding, laptop-style keyboard for it.

It’s not cheap, though. But the price is the only thing I don’t like about mine. :)

That’s a great point, but let me clarify something.

Your contract will be extended if you have less than a year left on your contract and you change to a different plan category or get different promotions. If you have, say, 15 months left on your contract they cannot extend your contract unless you go through a number of hoops. Cellular companies have been getting away with this for years and have recently gotten in a lot of trouble for it. All the major carriers have been involved with class action lawsuits because of this type of situation. If someone thinks that their contract was extended in error (happens constantly) then call customer service. If the rep seems unsure or is a dick then ask for a supervisor.

But here are a couple of examples of when ones contract would and would not be extended.

Customer has 5 months left on their contract and is on a current version of the Anytime 1000 (1,000peak, unlim n/w, 1,000m2m for $59.99 and they want to lower their minutes to the current Anytime 700 (700peak, unlim n/w, 1,000m2m for $44.99, not to be confused with the $39.99 one) then their contract will not be extended because they’re just changing to another plan within the same pricing structure. The thing that extends your contract is promotions (unlimited n/w, 1,000m2m in this case), and if your promotions do not change, and you’re on the same type of plan (Anytime, Digital Choice, and America’s Choice are the types) then you don’t need to extend the contract.

Now, if you have 5 months left on your contract and are on the Anytime 1,000 listed above and drop down to the Digital Choice 350+150 (350peak, 150bonus peak for as long as you’re on the plan, 1,000m2m, and unlimited n/w for $39.99) then you are going to extend your contract for one year from the day that you change.

I would personally suggest against that. It’s not a bad suggestion or anything, but I think a better one is to start on a plan that is higher than you think you might need. If you start on a 400 minute plan and find that you used 700 minutes then congradulations, you just got an extra $135 on your bill (300 minutes over times .45cents per minute). So the plan just cost you $174.99. On the other hand, if you start on a 1000 minute plan in the same pricing category (America’s Choice is what you mentioned) because you’re paranoid about going over then you paid $79.99 for your plan. Sure, you paid more for the plan itself, but sometimes it’s worth paying extra on the plan itself if it means you’re not going to have a huge bill. Personally, I don’t mind paying extra for a plan, but I feel like someones bitch whenever I start having to pay per minute rates for going over. Also, people typically use their phone a lot more during the first month of service than they do in future months. I guess it’s that whole “Hey, I just got a new cell phone and new phone number” thing. Or they think that offpeak starts at 8pm instead of 9pm on their plan.

On a final note, it’s always a good idea to call the customer care center a couple days after you sign up and ask some basic questions:

1: What day of the month do my minutes start?
2: What pricing plan am I on? (have them tell you, that way you can see if it matches up with what you thought you signed up for)
3: What features do I have?
4: What is my mobile to mobile calling area?
5: Do I have nationwide long distance? If not, how far can I call without getting LD charges, and what are those LD charges?
6: What is my account number so I can create my online account. (with VZW you can only view bills online if they were generated after you signed up for your online account)
7: How do I check my current minute usage?

Reps love it when people call in with their list of questions like this because it means that the customer probably isn’t going to call in the next month crying about how they weren’t told about this or that.

Better yet, get these questions out of the way during the actual purchase. Most qualified salespeople should be able to answer most of these questions; some of them, like the bill cycle date (the monthly date at which one month’s worth of billing ends and another begins) can be pulled up as soon as they finish setting up your account.

The scary part is that a lot of sales people will either not know the answer, or will just say whatever it takes to get you out the door. In general I don’t trust cellular sales people. Anyway, the big reason to actually call in is to verify that your plan is correct. Asking the sales person is almost like having a 4th grader grade their own math quiz.


Alrighty, posts read. Thanks again!

These have been very helpful comments as far as finding a plan goes. How about the idea of using just cell phones, and having no normal phone in the house? What are the drawbacks of such a plan, besides expense?

Everone you know being annoyed by your crappy cel phone reception. Kno* w**t * mea*?

Tivo needs a land line. Otherwise I would have ditched my crappy local phone service and gone cell-only long ago.


Just be sure to try your phones throughout your house… Depending on how coverage is in your area, you may find the cellular signal isn’t great inside your home. Where I am, it works great outside, but the phones only work well indoors on one side of our house.


If Tivo is the only thing making you keep a landline, just drop one of these in:


…and connect it to your network. It’s unofficially supported by Tivo… That is, they don’t actually offer tech support on it or acknowledge approval, but the Tivo 3.0 software has the drivers for the board built-in. Wish this has been around before I had a separate jack installed just for my Tivo.

I’ve been doing that for a little over a year now and have never regretted it. Course, I’m single and do not enjoy talking on the phone. If you have a household going cell phone only is a pain when you want everyone to hear messages or something. The other potential problem is coverage in your area, it becomes much more important when you go cell phone only. I say keep a bare bones landline phone plan for at least a few months and see what you think. Just remember that cell phones don’t always work, so don’t be shocked if you have an emergency and can’t call 911 due to lack of signal, that’s when a landline can come in handy.

dunno about micekville, but in tuscaloosa, alabama, everyone has 911 service, even those of us who don’t pay bellsouth.

i know it’s hard to do a test, but if you’re ever in a wired-for-phone house with no local phone service, you can still dial 911 and get through.

I don’t let people do that in my town!

But yeah, you’re right. Same goes for cell phones, I went overboard when I went cell phone only and basically tossed my regular phone off the balcony.

Thanks for arming me with good questions and phone model suggestions, everyone. I’m off to the Verizon store to grill 'em.