How to Choose a Wireless Phone and Service
The only answer to the question “Which wireless phone should I buy?” is, “It depends.” There are so many choices out there today that the only way to select the perfect phone for you is to look at many different factors-put yourself in the middle of the process and figure out how you will use the phone, where and when you will make most of your calls, and how much you want to spend.

The first thing to realize is that the phone is only as good as the network on which it works. Digital-What’s the Difference?” for more information on analog versus digital technologies), so there really is no difference between the original cellular carriers and the newer totally digital PCS carriers any more. One of the things that digital technology allows the carriers to do is to sell phones that will work only on their network-so the days of walking across the street to sign up on someone else’s network with the same phone are pretty much gone.

Thinking about making the switch to wireless full time and ditching your home phone completely? Well, you are not alone, but you are among a small group of techno-savvy users who are foregoing the wire for the freedom of wireless. And why not? If you buy a wireless plan with 3000 minutes of use included, you have to use them some time, right? So, what factors do you need to consider when buying that perfect wireless phone? There are basically six steps that we will review in this article:

  1. Look for service providers with coverage in your area-Where will you use your phone and which wireless carrier has the best service there?
  2. Choose the wireless phone you want and/or need-Do you need all the latest options or do you just need to make calls in an emergency?
  3. Make sure you know how you will use your wireless phone-How many minutes will you use each month and at what time of the day will you use the most minutes? Will you call locally or long distance?
  4. Be aware of how much buying and using wireless will cost-How much are you willing to spend on the monthly service and on the phone?
  5. Look for special promotions-Are there any great deals out there that will get you the best deal for the right phone and plan?
  6. Don’t forget your accessories-Will you need to use a headset for your car, do you need a belt clip or extra batteries?

In the Beginning: An Introduction to Wireless
Think of the walkie-talkie as the electronic equivalent of taking your first step. For many of us, it was our first introduction into the world of wireless technology. Bewildering and exciting, but more importantly, proof that even at an early age, humankind possessed some sort of inherent need to find new ways to communicate. The walkie-talkie was wildly successful.
Fast-forward a few years and we’ve grown into a more dependable adult version of walkie-talkie called the cordless phone-a true introduction to what has permeated our lifestyles at home, work, and play. But limitations of physical distance prevented us from taking the cordless on the road until miraculously, the cellular, or wireless, phone appeared and now it’s a vicious game of catch-up to understand what wireless means to the average Joe.

The Basics
Today’s cellular service operates on much the same principle as our earlier walkie-talkie devices. Your voice is still transmitted through the air from point A to point B, but that’s where most of the similarities end.
With cellular technology, messages sound clearer, travel farther, and are received by the second party (with a little luck) as if we were next door. And it’s all done through a network built by breaking a geographic region into small areas called cells, which include the cellular antennas. Calls are transmitted from the antenna to the wired telephone system until it reaches the target audience on the other end. The term cellular is often used to refer to “traditional cellular” or analog technology (AMPS or Advanced Mobile Phone Service), which utilized a network built at 800 MHz by two service providers, or carriers, in each market. This simply means that 800 MHz is the wavelength or frequency at which your voice travels from your phone to the antenna. It also assures you that whether calling from the beach or from a traffic jam, potentially life-altering commands like “half pepperoni” will be heard at the other end.

The Digital Age
Just when you think that you’ve got a pretty good handle on what analog is all about, digital technology joins the party. This essentially means a second wireless technology; new terminology, products, and services; yet another learning curve; as well as up to five or six new competitors in each market. But the principle between analog and digital remains basically the same. The two most significant differences are that calls now travel at a frequency of either 800 MHz or 1900MHz and, unlike analog, the digital network breaks down the sender’s voice into binary code, transmits it as data, and reassembles it on the other end. These digital networks usually are referred to as Personal Communications Service (PCS) networks, although the traditional cellular carriers also offer digital service, and sometimes call their digital service PCS, also. The relevance of these changes to the every-day consumer is that this break-through affects everything from call quality to network access, and features like caller ID, Internet access, and extended battery life.

Please note that reference to any private organization or association in this brochure is included for informational purposes only and does not imply an endorsement by the Commission or the federal government of any product or service it provides.

This Information is Based on the Consumer Information Bureau
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