Examine Phone Plans Before Signing Up

Physician's Money Digest, May 15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 9

America's infatuation with the cellphoneis easily visible during a strollthrough a busy train station, shoppingmall, or any other public place. And doctorsaren't immune—a Harris Poll foundthat more than 85% of physicians use cellphones.Steady competition amongmobile phone carriers gives physician-consumersa multitude of plans and optionsfrom which to choose.

The average mobile phone customerspends $50 to $55 a month for service anduses 500 to 600 minutes a month, estimatesEdward Hold, vice president fortelecommunication services at CurrentAnalysis, a research firm based in Sterling,Va. He also notes that carriers often subsidizethe cost of a handset in the hope ofattracting customers with the prospect ofa cheap, or free, high-end phone.

USEFUL CONSIDERATIONS

Before signing up for cellphone service,telecommunication experts suggest thatyou honestly assess what you actuallyneed. Consider these questions:

  • Do you want/need a phone with allthe latest features and gadgets?
  • Will you be using the phone forother purposes, like sending e-mail messagesto friends or family?
  • Where are you most likely to usethe phone (eg, the car)?
  • When you travel, do you plan onbringing your phone?
  • Will you mostly be making local calls,or will you be making more long-distancecalls with your cellphone?
  • How many minutes a month do youexpect to use your phone, and at whattime of day?
  • Are functions like voice mail andcall waiting important to you?

Physician-consumers should makesure that the coverage and connectionare good before considering any otherfeature, Hold advises. He points outthat most large carriers offer a graceperiod of approximately 2 weeks, duringwhich time customers can returntheir phones and cancel their contract ifthey are not satisfied with their serviceor phone. A good way to find out aboutany service gaps in your area before settlingon a carrier is to talk to your colleaguesor neighbors.

MONEY TALK

Cellular plans abound, all at similarprices. For $35 a month, AT&T Wireless(www.attws.com) offers 500 monthly minutes,plus free long-distance service andno roaming charges within its network. Acalling plan from Verizon Wireless(www.verizonwireless.com) offers customers400 peak minutes and an additional1500 night and weekend minutesfor $45 a month. Similar plans and pricesare available from other carriers. Somecarriers also promote extra night andweekend minutes. Nighttime minutesusually run from 9 PM to 7 AM.

In some cases, talk is not cheap. Onceyou add in federal, state, and local taxes,plus the various fees and surcharges fromthe carriers, your final bill could increaseby 25%. And when you need directoryassistance, it will cost you more than a dollareach time you call information.

A good idea:

In 2002, California wireless customerspaid 19.6% on their cellphone in state taxalone—the highest wireless tax in thecountry. Florida was second highest at17.8%, according to the CellularTelecommunications and Internet Association(www.wow-com.com). Next cameVirginia at 17.1%, followed by New Yorkat 16.4%. When comparingplans, be sure to ask carriers what yourfinal bill will be after adding in all taxesand surcharges.

Various Web sites are available to helpcompare the many plans available in yourarea. They include the following:

  • www.fcc.gov/marketsense/cellphone.html
  • www.fcc.gov/cgb/wirelessphone.pdf
  • www.telebright.com/wrStart.asp
  • www.point.com
  • www.letstalk.com
  • www.jdpower.com/telecom/jdpa_ratings/FindWireless.jsp

Remember, the most important factorin deciding on a plan is to determine howyou will use your cellphone. A great phoneand seemingly cost-effective plan won'tmean much if they're not tailored to meetyour calling needs.