Cell Phone Basics - About your Wireless Buddy

By: Nat Jay

There are about 100 million cell phone users in America today, with thousands more jumping on to the bandwagon every day. But despite its popularity, many users are still clueless about the technology (or ideas) behind this indispensable device. So allow me to present you a quick-n-easy crash course -- the 4 must-know things about your wireless buddy:

1. Wireless Services
There are 3 kinds of wireless services -- (a) Analog, (b) PCS, and (c) Digital. Analog was the original wireless service and still covers large parts of the US. But it's dated and quite expensive to maintain, so used only by a minority of individuals mostly from universities and the government. For the sake of comparison, analog is to wireless what dial-up is to the Internet. PCS and Digital wireless services are more modern -- they are conceptually the same but operate on different radio frequencies.

2. Transmission Technologies
You choose your cell phone but it's your service provider (carrier) who decides what transmission that phone will use. These, too, come in 3 flavors -- (a) CDMA, (b) GSM, and (c) iDen. CDMA is the dominant US standard offering the benefits of voice encryption and high-speed mobile internet. GSM is a satellite-based European standard that's making inroads into the US as an alternative to CDMA. While iDen is a relatively obscure standard whose USP is its support for push-to-talk facility - a walky-talky kind of system.

3. Calling Plans
Calling Plans give you access to the carrier's network to make calls within your predefined area (your home area). Most carriers offer local, regional and national plans with the benefits of unlimited night or weekend calling and free long distance calling being offered by default. The lowest advertised rates are generally for local plans -- ideal if you don't travel that much. But if you do, factor this into your plan at the sign-up stage itself to brace for higher call rates when you activate roaming. Consider family or shared plans if you are a new subscriber as they offer the greatest amount of flexibility and economy.

4. The Cell Phone Itself
Your cell phone isn't just an extension of your business or personal life, it's also a reflection of your personality. So choose one that does just that. Do you need a top-grade phone with mobile TV and full multimedia features -- streaming video and the like? Or, do you need a smart phone with support for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF files -- along with push-email? Or do you just need a solid, dependable phone that helps you communicate by voice and sms wherever you are? Bottomline is, pay only for the features you need. Battery life, speaker clarity and signal strength in out-of-city areas are all important deciders of phone quality. If you're in the market for a new cell phone, make sure you're clear about what you're going to use the phone for. Focus on deals that give you the widest possible choice in one place and look for add-ons that enhance your user experience. Draw from the experiences of others but make your own decisions. After all, your needs are as unique as your priorities.

Cell Phones
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