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Welcome to Cellular 101.
Your Information Center for Cellular Products & Calling

Frequently asked questions about cellular phone service cellular plans and purchasing cellular phones.

Q: What carrier is best and what type of plan should I choose

A: The 1st thing you want to do is decide which carrier gives you the best cell reception in the areas you use your phone the most.
If  you have a cell phone now, & your current carrier has good clear connections 90% of the time, you may be best to stick with your carrier.
Ask your friends, coworkers and neighbors what carrier they use, to get an idea of how they like their service.

All of our prepaid and hybrid plans with the exception of Tracfone, use one of the remaining 3 large cellular carriers to complete your call, which are AT&T/Cingular  Nextel/Sprint & Verizon. Tracfone has contracts with all 3.

Once you have decided which carrier is best for your needs, you now can look into your options.

  1. Postpaid ( 1 or 2 year contract )

  2. Prepaid ( no contract )

  3. Hybrid ( monthly no contract )

Postpaid is your standard plan with a 1 or 2 year contract. If you choose this route, try to only sign a 1 year contract when possible. Rate plans are constantly getting more affordable, and you do not want to be stuck with an older plan rate.

Hybrid is a combination of prepaid and postpaid.  Generally you get a set amount of minutes and either a lower rate night & weekend or free night & weekend minutes. This plan you may month to month yet you are not locked into a contract.  Phones will generally cost a little more, yet if you do not like the service, you can cancel at any time.

Prepaid is just that. Prepaid cost more per minute, and you need to purchase refill cards or airtime every 30 to 90 days, to stay active. Minutes do roll over onto the next card, as long as you purchase a new card and activate before the old card expires. This is the cheapest route if you want to try a new service, or you use less than 150 minutes a month in calls.

Q: What's the deal with the different digital technologies, like CDMA, TDMA and GSM?

A: Not much, if you're not a telecom engineer.
Sprint and Verizon employ CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), in which each call is tagged with its own digital code--sort of how two people speaking a foreign language can hear each other across a crowded room. CDMA is the leading system in the United States; all other things being equal (they never are!), it offers the most calling capacity. AT&T and Cellular One use something called TDMA, short for Time Division Multiple Access, in which multiple calls are squeezed into the same chunk of frequency by assigning each one its own fraction-of-a-second repeating time slot. VoiceStream uses GSM (Global System for Mobile communications); based on time-division principles as well, it's the oldest and most popular technology worldwide. GSM's standout feature here is the subscriber identity module (SIM) card, which can be swapped in and out of different phones to transfer a phone number and account information. Nextel, in turn, uses a different technology called iDEN (integrated Digital Enhanced Network), which also uses time slots to carve up the spectrum but supports data and two-way dispatch radio along with regular phone calls, and runs on a different set of frequencies.

Q: Should I worry about signing a yearly contract?

A: The main liability with a contract is that it locks you into a particular cost structure 12 months in advance, when in the future your needs might change. You can switch plans but you'll usually have to sign up for a new one-year contract then.

But the lack of a contract doesn't give you a lot more freedom to switch providers--you can't use one carrier's phone with another's service, even if both use the same basic digital technology.

Whatever you do, don't sign a contract for a term longer than a year. The industry is moving too fast to make that kind of a commitment.

Q: So how do I decide what plan is right?

A: Estimate how many calls you will place each month--and how many calls you will get. Then add, oh, 10 percent to that total. See which plans include a monthly total of minutes greater than that. A few roaming calls a month won't throw your bill out of whack, but it doesn't take too many lengthy calls from the airport to wipe out the savings from using a cheaper plan

Q: What about picking out a particular phone?

A: It's largely a matter of personal taste and budget; the latter depends on what promotions are being offered, which tend to fluctuate almost weekly. Size and battery life are the most important factors; if you want to try out the wireless Web, you'll need a larger than normal screen.

Q: Do you have to subscribe for wireless service if all you want is access to 911 in an emergency?

A: No.  The Federal Communications Commission requires all carriers to complete calls to 911 without charge.  We suggest that when you replace your wireless phone that you keep the old phone for emergencies.  Some people have given wireless phones without subscription service to their teenage children so that they can reach 911 in an emergency but not run up large bills talking to their friends.

Q: How can I make an international phone call from my wireless phone?

A:To make an international phone call from your wireless phone, dial 011 + country code + city/area code (if applicable) + local telephone number, then press "Send" or "Talk". If the call does not complete, contact your cellular customer service carrier to have your phone authorized for international long distance. International long distance rates vary.

Q: What is a fast busy signal?

A: Fast busy means that all of the radio channels in your area are in use.  This is becoming an increasing problem as some carriers overload their systems.

Q: Where can I go if I have a complaint about my wireless service?

A: The Federal Communications maintains a consumer information site at  You can file a complaint with the Commission through its web site or in writing to:  Federal Communications Commission, The Portals, 445 Twelfth Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20554

  Frequently asked questions about cellular phone service cellular plans and purchasing cellular phones.

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