Tech@Work: Digital Cellular Service Traps

May 1, 2000

As analog cellular technology gives way to new and improved digital service, personal communication is becoming more efficient and cost-effective. Digital service allows for more transmissions over the same signal; greater protection from eavesdroppers; and the sending of computer data over your phone.

But before you sign a contract, ask informed questions to stave off regrets.

Not all minutes are created equal

Just about every digital cellular provider (DCP) offers monthly packages that include bundled minutes.

The trap: Some DCPs may charge you separately--as much as 39 cents a minute--for calls outside their digital network, even if those calls are local.

Say your package includes 600 minutes of airtime. If you use 300 minutes within the DCP’s network and 300 minutes in analog areas, you may end up with 300 unused digital minutes. Plus, you’ll be billed for the minutes used outside the digital network, which could be expensive.

Solution: Ask whether there’s any situation for which you’d pay extra.

When free isn’t

Many digital extras, such as voice mail, are often promoted as being free.

The trap: Although voice mail itself might be free,the DCP may charge you for each message that’s left in your box or for the time you use to retrieve messages.

Solution: Ask about all the possible charges for each option you select.

Time is ticking away

A package of 600 minutes may seem like a long time.

The trap: Many digital providers round calls to the full minute. So every 10-second call will cost you a minute of your included airtime.

Solution: Find a DCP that rounds in smaller increments.

Another trap: Often the timer built into your phone won’t round off in the same increments as the digital provider. And until the billing period ends, few providers will tell you how much of your allotted time you’ve used.

Solution: Find out whether there’s any way to gauge your usage accurately.

Where to roam

The most enticing feature of many digital contracts is that of no fees for roaming.

The trap: Some providers charge no roaming fees for calls placed anywhere within the country. Others waive fees only within predesignated service areas.

Solution: Ask your DCP exactly where and when roaming fees apply. Request a service area map if there’s any doubt.

Exaggerated battery ratings

A nice feature of digital service and phones is extended operating times.

The trap: Most DCPs advertise the maximum possible standby and talk times. However, extended times are available only when the equipment is used exclusively within a digital service area. If you place or receive calls in an analog area, the power drain will be greater.

Solution: As a rule of thumb, divide the advertised maximums by three to estimate how long the phone will operate outside digital areas. Also, find out where your phone will switch to analog operation.

You’ll get a lot of pluses with digital service as long as you understand what you get--and what you don’t.

In addition to instructing GRI programs, Stephen Canale has spoken at hundreds of seminars in 45 states, covering subjects relating to real estate sales and technology. For more information on his products, newsletter, and seminars, visit

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