Cell phone plans offer many options
Competition for subscribers is fierce among the five major cell phone providers, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, Cingular, and Nextel. Companies compete by offering customers a menu of calling options, phone styles and pricing plans. All claim to provide the widest areas of coverage.
Most plans are based on a basic monthly charge for a specific number of minutes during peak daytime hours (9 am to 5 pm) for one phone. Most of the major companies provide no limits for use during off-hours and weekends.
Additional phones, calling areas and special features such as text messaging can add to the cost.
One important consideration for many customers is what a company charges when a customer exceeds his or her allotted minutes. T-Mobile, Cingular, Verizon and Nextel charge an additional 40 cents per minute for customers who exceed the allotted minutes.
Sprint charges $5 for every additional block of 50 minutes used.
In addition to pricing and minutes, companies compete by providing various benefits and features.
For customers who talk less, not more, Cingular is the only company that allows customers to "roll over" unused minutes to the next month's billing cycle.
Nextel phones also provide so-called "walkie-talkie" service, which allows a caller to contact another Nextel user directly without making a call. Except for the lowest plan, which charges .15 per minute, Nextel provides unlimited use of the walkie-talkie with all of their plans.
Recent shakeouts in the industry hold the potential for new changes on the cell phone landscape. Last August Sprint and Nextel announced a merger. ATT and Cingular have also merged. According to the Cingular company web site, the merger allows for enhanced communication coverage.
Trying to compare the array of individual, family, and business plans can be bewildering. While it might seem that comparing cell phone to cell phone would be a case of apples to apples it is like comparing Macintosh to Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples.
In an effort to provide one constant basis for comparison The Times chose the monthly price of $59.99 and used the plan recommended by the cell phone company.
Minutes Weeknights Weekend Price Tmobile Get More Ultra 1500 Unlimited Unlimited $59.99 Verizon America's Choice 900 Unlimited Unlimited $59.99 Sprint Fair & Flexible Plan 1000 Unlimited Unlimited $59.99 Cingular Nation with Rollover 900 Unlimited Unlimited $59.99 Nextel Fair & Flexible Plan 1000 Unlimited Unlimited $59.99.