View Full Version : Cell phone help needed

04-16-2004, 05:43 PM
My daughter is graduating from college and is asking for some kind of help (research, selection and partial payment) with a cell phone and service plan.

She's never had one. I don't use one.

She'll be driving from New England to Seattle over the summer and settling there with friends. She would like to be able to use her laptop wirelessly for e-mail and research both on the road and at her new home. She wants to be able to call us in Georgia and Maine as well as friends/brother/sister/relatives nationwide. Cost is a factor, but good value and real utility are worth paying for (we hope).

Does anyone have suggestions as to how to look for plans/phones/ISPs that could satisfy these desires? Perhaps it would make sense to get a pre-paid (?) plan/phone for the cross-country trip and do something else upon settling in Seattle. Her work will take her travelling quite a bit and the idea of wireless internet and e-mail appeals to her, but we don't know how simple, reliable, or costly it is.

Any suggestions or recommendations re 'comparison shopping websites' would be welcome.

[ 04-16-2004, 06:45 PM: Message edited by: rbgarr ]

Jim H
04-16-2004, 05:52 PM
I have a Cingular "rollover plan". They cover the area you're talking about and I have only dropped a call once compared to the numerous times I lost a connection using Sprint. I don't use all my minutes (500) every month so they "rollover". I beleive I have over 2500 minutes to use up over the next few months. As far as connecting to the internet, I'd bet Meerkat might know a little more about that.

04-16-2004, 06:14 PM
It's tough because there's no apples to oranges comparison. Maybe waiting until she gets to Seattle is a good idea.

I'm in love with Nextel & have been forever. Their phones are behind as far as gizmos like the camera phones, but coverage areas and service are excellent.

I don't use it now because I travel less, but 3 or 4 years and two phones ago, I had a Nextel software program and cable package ($49 bucks or so) and I ran my laptop through my cell phone for internet access anywhere there was a phone signal.

These days - esp. in Seattle, I think she'll find a lot of "Hot Spots" where she won't need anything but the laptop.

Side note - In all these years, I've had two places in the country where Nextel service was poor and one was Maine! It'd improved when we were there last year - seems like I was fine in Bangor and the larger cities, but at the 2002 Woodenboat Show, I was seriously jonesing :rolleyes: and depending on my cell phone to connect with folks :mad: So much for that great idea. I lost coverage somewhere just north of the Maine state line and that was all she wrote...

Every company is going offer various plans and usually discounts/family plans for multiple phones and/or no charge calling users on the same plan, etc.

My Nextel plan has 10,000 minutes for $54.99 a month, free long distance, etc. In my mind, that's worth not worrying about nights, weekends, calling plans, etc.

And no, even in my heyday, I've never gone over my minutes.

Other miscellaneous advice - don't be afraid to pay for a phone. It varies, but often the phones they offer for free with new activation are pretty bottom of the barrell. Kindof like a dollar store screwdriver vs. a name brand. Think of it as a tool - in effect it is - and shop for phone features, size (weight), memory, ease of use, etc. just like you'd shop for a power tool.

Thanks again for the Eggemoggin pic!

- Margo

04-16-2004, 06:31 PM
Thanks for the thoughtful responses.

I well remember the difficulties/frustrations you (Margo) had with cell service in Maine last summer. I recall trying to warn you about it but didn't really get through to you before your your trip north. That's a good part of why we've never had it living in Maine for half of the year as we do. Cell service in Maine is not very reliable and it seems to be a place that the companies don't care to invest in.

-We'll keep the ideas about the phone features/quality in mind. I hadn't even thought about the camera business.
-I've heard of 'hotspots', but don't you still need a phone to connect when you're in one?? I mean, you don't connect wirelessly through a laptop alone, do you? (Am I displaying unbelievable ignorance?)
-Does Meerkat do a lot of stuff wirelessly or is the suggestion to contact him based on his living in that area?

04-16-2004, 07:20 PM
My advice would be wait...and the main reason is:

Once she is in Seattle, all her friends would have to dial a long distance number to get her cell phone. That would be expensive, and maybe prohibit them from calling her.


04-16-2004, 08:04 PM
I think Mer is both up to speed on the latest technology and in the area.

Hot Spots require no cell phone. Again, I'm out of the business-travel mode, but some places like Starbucks promote wireless service at their establishment. You still have to have an ISP, but airports, high end hotels, etc. you just plop down and the only difference is that you don't have to plug a cord into the wall (or a cell phone).

I'm sure there's several folks here (Joe (****) for one) who have their house set up that way so that they can go from room to room on their laptop. It's not that big of a deal anymore. :rolleyes: :cool:

If you like technology, it's an amazing time to be alive.

Noah has a good point about the long distance # for her Seattle friends - but that leaves you calling a long distance number to reach her.

Nextel never missed a minute all through Seattle, Olympia, Vancover, and Portland. Even rang when we were in the lodge at Mount Hood. (And that one surprised even me.)

[ 04-16-2004, 09:12 PM: Message edited by: Concordia..41 ]

04-16-2004, 09:08 PM
Mr. Ignorant (me) replies:

Is there a device that her laptop comes with already installed that picks up wireless signals, assuming she has an ISP, or is that another device you'd have to install in the computer in order to work in hot spots (as well as buying a cellphone for phone calls)? Am I making any sense or am I WAAY off base?

I thought the laptop plugged into the cellphone and connected wirelessly that way.

In any case, waiting to get cellphone service in Seattle sounds like the way to go, regardless of the technology of wireless computing (for now).

Nicholas Carey
04-17-2004, 12:48 AM
Around here (e.g., Seattle)—the best deals in the way of cell plans seem to come from T-mobile (ex-VoiceStream) and Cingular.

The plan I've got from T-Mobile is $39.95 per month, no long distance (US and Canada) and no roaming, with 1000 "anytime" minutes and nights/weekends free. Weekends being, of course, Thursday evening through Sunday evening. Needless to say, I never even get close to the airtime limitation (my wife does, though, but that's another story :D Sometimes she even manages to exceed it :eek: ).

A friend of mine has the same plan as me: he did the math and ditched his land line completely. Given the amount of long distance calls he makes, it was cheaper for him to just keep the cell phone.

The only caveat is that if you want 'Net access, dumping the land line isn't usually feasable, althey Qwest has recently announced the availability of DSL here without the requirement to maintain voice service on the wire as well.

T-mobile and Cingular both use GSM instead of TDMA (geek-speak for the particular protocols used by the handset to talk to the cell tower). GSM is the world-wide standard pretty much everywhere but North America (and now, US-occupied Iraq :D ), so if she goes with a GSM plan, she should make a point of getting a three-band (it's important!) "world" phone, if she plans on travelling overseas.

Although GSM is the world-wide standard for cell service, the RF-band allocations it uses aren't. Due to historic happenstance, there are 3 bands allocates to GSM service world-wide. A tri-band phone may be used pretty much anywhere in the world. You will get charged for international roaming, though, which is kinda like dialing 1-900 number over a cell phone :D , so if travelling overseas, you just buy a prepaid SIM where you're going. The SIM is the magick chip that makes a GSM phone a phone: it's a part of the GSM standard. Remove your US SIM and replace it with the prepaid version you bought in Paris (or wherever), and, et voila, you have a local number at your destination.

One thing with GSM is that service can be limited unless near an Interstate highway or a large-ish city. This is a restriction that's rapidly becoming less of an issue since Cingular went GSM and ATT Wireless is going GSM: all 3 have agreed to carry each other's traffic w/o charge. Since ATT Wireless is pretty much ubiquitous, this should solve the problem pretty quickly.

Wireless 'Net access is another deal entirely: you can set up a cellular modem, but its beacoups expensive, for airtime, if nothing else. Better off installing an 802.11b/802.11g card in the laptop. Depend on coffee shops, etc. on the road, and DSL or dialup at home. Here in Seattle, wireless 'Net access away from the house is pretty easy to find: there's a number of bars/coffee shops/etc. that offer it, and more that offer it for a price.

My recommendation in a nutshell:

1. T-mobile/Cingular cell service with a tri-band GSM phone.

2. 802.11b/802.11g wireless card in the laptop.

3. Either DSL or dialup with a WAP (wireless access point) at home.

4. Coffee shops or other wireless 'Net access away from home.

[send me an email if you want advice on local ISP's/wireless hardware, etc.]

[ 04-17-2004, 01:52 AM: Message edited by: Nicholas Carey ]

Billy Bones
04-17-2004, 07:29 AM
My cingular svc worked well in seacoast NH and along 95 in Maine. It also worked well for me in California and FL tho getting a circuit was difficult.

The plan I have allows me free long distance and free roaming and lotsa minutes peak, even more offpeak, and still more cell-to-cell. All for $40/mo, and I'm in the USVI for heavens sake. I use my cell for all ld and it ends up being cheaper than a landline would be with the long dist.

Good luck

Oh, PS: AVOID SPRINT. My wife's work phone is a Sprint and she can't get a signal about 2/3 the time, no matter where she is in the country. When we travel together she gets her messages on the sprint phone and borrows mine to return the calls. :rolleyes:

Oh, PPS: Congrtatulations to your daughter!

[ 04-17-2004, 08:33 AM: Message edited by: Billy Bones ]

Oyvind Snibsoer
04-19-2004, 03:34 AM
Dunno much about US cell networks, but I'd recommend getting a phone with Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a wireless cable replacement protocol. > 90% of all laptops produced today worldwide comes with Bluetooth built into them. You can fairly easily configure BT so that your computer or PDA dials up your ISP seamlessly over the BT connection. You don't even have to take the phone out of your pocket. BTW, is GPRS and/or UMTS common in the US yet?

stan v
04-19-2004, 07:01 AM
I couldn't stand not keeping in touch with my daughter while she is driving cross country. Walk into a cell phone store in town, ask them. AT&T is awesome (bro n law has one), I've had Nextel for years, two way radios are super. I know Seattle is different (in everything, geez have your daughter drop down into Texas for a day or two, she may never make that trip to the left coast) but the cell service shouldn't vary. Could probably change to a local number when she arrives anyway. Calling cell phone to cell phone is never long distance.

Fearkitty knows nothing about anything.

John Bell
04-19-2004, 10:22 AM
I travel all over NA and connectivity is very important to me. Particularly in rural areas.

My suggestion for best cost and coverage is Cingular's national plan. I've got 850 mins plus unlimited nights and weekends for $75/mo.all the taxes and fees.

The key to getting coverage is to pick the phone that supports all the standards. A lot of the newest bling-bling phones only have GSM 850/1900 support. These work great in major metros and along most interstates, but once you get out in the sticks they don't get a signal. I just switched to a Nokia 6340i phone that has both domestic GSM bands 850/1900, as well as TDMA digital, and AMPS analog support. If I can't get a signal on this phone it's because there ain't
one to be had. This phone does not have a color screen or a fancy camera, nor is it tiny, but it allows me to make and recieve calls just about anywhere. And that's the most important consideration, IMO.

Beware of any calling plan that allows no cost roaming for in-network only. Verizon and Sprint are bad about this. The problem is, you don't always know when you are in-network or out of network. It can mean big surpirse when you get your bill! ATT and Cingular are much better plans in this regard.

04-19-2004, 11:46 AM
Thanks for the responses! I'm learning alot and my daughter is getting this thread at college, too.

Alan D. Hyde
04-19-2004, 02:55 PM
Go to Wal-Mart and buy her a $50 Nokia prepaid (Simple Freedom or Trac) phone.

Or spend in the high $90 range and get her the Virgin prepaid flip phone at Wal-Mart or at Target.

Minutes are about $.25, and she can buy them as needed. IF she uses the phone for security purposes, and for occasional convenience, she can do OK on $10/month. I don't think you'll beat that elsewhere.


[ 04-19-2004, 03:56 PM: Message edited by: Alan D. Hyde ]