Cell Phone Service

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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The key to good cell phone service is getting a signal. Without a good, consistent signal, you can't make and complete a call. Obvious, yes, but you can't assume that because you own a cell phone and have an active plan with a reputable provider you'll always be able to make a call. What matters is how many radio towers the company has across a given area.

After the break up of Ma Bell in 1984, telephone companies have of course proliferated. Now that digital cell phone technology has revolutionized communications, cell phone use has begun competing with land line use. Corporate competition for cell phone service business is stiff. Nationwide vendors include (alphabetically) the recently combined AT&T/Cingular, MCI, Qwest, Sprint, T-mobile and Verizon. The good news is that it is largely a buyer's market--unlike real estate in San Diego, for example.

Checklist for Cell Phone Service Providers

Determining which cell phone service is best for you depends in large part on how you use your phone. For example, let's say that you coordinate academic conferences and travel all over the country for four-day stretches a couple times a month. In this scenario, you'd definitely need a national rather than local service, a generous allotment of prime-time minutes, long distance included, no roaming, and free in-network minutes.

To take another example, let's say you work for yourself at home and travel only periodically and for pleasure. You probably rely on a landline for work. Your cell phone needs will probably be minimal--the odd emergency call, the "I'm on my way but there's a traffic jam ahead" apology, or the "I'll be there in 15 minutes, shall I pick anything up on my way?" question. Ask yourself the needs versus want questions before you start shopping providers.

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