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Your Guide to Phone Service


By Kelly Smith
Special to Relocation.com

Just like television, running water, and the microwave, the phone is just another invention that most folks take for granted, even though it has altered the way we live and do business.

Things have certainly changed for the phone since its invention in 1876. In fact, as time moves along, the telephone is becoming less of a physical, iconic device and more of a communication concept. We've still got the comfortable old land line, but we've also got cell phones with cameras, miniature Blackberry workstations and even computer based phone services (VoIP) like Skype.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of each service, many people nowadays are trying to decide between a land line and a cell phone.

That's up to each individual, but a pro argument for going cell-only: We've gone that way at my house because it makes good economic sense. And I found out after Hurricane Ike, when all the power goes out for an extended period of time, it's the only communication available -- and my little wind-up disaster weather radio has a port for a cell charger.

A con for keeping a land line: Sometimes you lose cell service during a very busy time -- ask anyone who was in New York during 9-11. And you might want to keep your land line in cases where you have to keep business and personal separate.

Old Faithful: the Land Line

This is the phone service most of us grew up with; some of us even remember the annoying party line, that platform for phone pranks. But the service matured and switching stations went digital from analog in most areas.

As cell phones increased in popularity, some people surrendered their land lines while others kept them for dial-up Internet service. Now some people are going with cable modems and giving up the land line to drop another bill.

In fact, the New York Times says , "It is true that 70 percent of online users still have fixed lines in their homes provided by a telecommunications company. Fifteen percent receive fixed-line service from a cable company (cable providers are attracting customers with 'bundled' offers) and 3% from an Internet-based service provider."  Here are some of the available providers.

* Qwest -- This company's low rate is $12.50 per month and it's really a barebones package. Other services are all add-ons. Qwest (www.qwest.com) offers service in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
* Cleartel -- Cleartel (http://cognigen.cleartel.com/) offers service starting at $12.95 in limited areas but bumps it up to $22 in most areas. They serve Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin.
* AT&T -- AT&T (www.att.com) has been in this business so long that it's practically a national monument. Available nationally, their basic plan is structured a bit differently. The monthly fee is a mere $2.99, but the per-minute charge is 10 cents per minute. This makes it a bargain for less verbose customers, but for someone that likes to talk, watch out!

Cell Phone Service

Cell phones are everywhere today and competition among providers is fierce. The original portable phone that began this trend wasn't a true cell at all and it was about the size of a brick.

But it certainly addicted people to instant connectivity and spawned a new industry. Today, the providers are always offering special incentives such as "free" phones with a one or two year commitment, with rates constantly changing, so shop them all for the best deal.

* AT&T – They're dominant in this sector as well, and offer many plans (http://www.wireless.att.com/cell-phone-service/welcome/residential-bridge-t/index.jsp). These include 7 individual plans, 5 data plans (email, Internet, etc.), 13 family plans, and 6 prepaid plans.
* Verizon – Another major player, Verizon (http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/index.html) is very competitive in pricing and service areas. They offer voice plans, voice plus Internet, voice plus email, business plans, and special international services.
* T-Mobile – T-Mobile (http://www.t-mobile.com/) categorize their plans by individual plans, family plans, Internet and email plans, business plans, and no-contract plans.
* Cricket – Cricket (http://www.mycricket.com/) is giving the big boys a run for their money. And why not? The cell industry is very lucrative once the infrastructure (relay towers, etc.) is in place. Cricket takes a different plan approach, like their $30 per month plan. Or the $45 plan that is half as expensive as their competitors while offering more services. Cricket is still expanding their coverage so it really depends on where the customer lives. But if their service area works for you, it's possible to save some serious money.

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)

When VoIP burst on the scene, it created quite a stir in the geek community. It added one more service to everyone's PC, and with today's blinding packet transmission speed it made total sense -- the infrastructure is in place and the computers are already wired for microphones and speakers or headphones.

* Skype – Skype (http://www.skype.com/useskype/) won't come up first on Google, and there's a good reason for that: it's free. And it offers video calls, conference calls, and chat functionality. Of course, if you happen to outgrow these free features, they also offer pay-as-you-go and pay monthly plans.
* Vonage – Anyone watching any TV or listing to any radio is well acquainted with Vonage (https://subscribe.vonage.com/plans). Their Basic 500 Minutes Residential Plan will set you back $14.99 per month and 3.9 cents per minute if you use up the first 500.
* Voip.com – Voip.com (http://www.voip.com/) hasn't bought as much air time as Vonage, but they must have been quick on their feet to register their domain name! Their plans include Unlimited Monthly for $19.95 per month and the Unlimited Yearly plan for $199.00 per year (which works out to $16.58 a month).

Time to Decide

There's never been so many communication choices. A competitive market is good for prices, flexible devices, and payment plans. Changing cell providers? The law now states that you can take your phone number with you. This used to be a major way to keep customers locked in, but no more. So, happy shopping!

This article was written in October 2008

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