Beyond the Dial Tone
Beyond the Dial Tone (cont'd)
You'll find a rich collection of data services, including video messaging, at T-Mobile.
You have to puzzle your way through the company's maze of plans, which have odd names like GetMore Max and FamilyTime Plus. Calling plans range from about $20 to $130 per month (T-Mobile also offers separate plans for businesses, as well as for BlackBerry and Sidekick PDA users).
I tried T-Mobile on a Motorola V300 camera phone and had no trouble snapping and sending photos to several e-mail accounts. I also tried the company's service on a BlackBerry 7230, a device that is much better suited for messaging and other online tasks. The unit's larger screen made Web browsing easy, and T-Mobile's connection was stable and speedy in my area.
Subscribers to Verizon Wireless's Get It Now Web service should soon be getting it a whole lot faster.
This summer the company plans to start upgrading its wireless network with a nationwide program called Broadband Access (the service is already available in San Diego and in Washington, D.C.). Company spokesperson Ken Muche says the technology will let users Web surf at speeds of 300 to 550 kbps.
By comparison, most GPRS networks (AT&T's earlier spec, Cingular, T-Mobile, and Nextel) generally operate at dial-up speeds, while CDMA networks (Sprint PCS and the current Verizon network) are only slightly faster than dial-up. AT&T's newer EDGE network is three to four times as fast as dial-up. But in my experience with any network, going online on a cell phone still tends to be sluggish.
Verizon's Broadband Access will cost around $80 a month, on top of the calling plan, which ranges from $35 to $300 a month. Handsets with Broadband Access service, along with video messaging and multiplayer gaming, will be available later this year.
Using an LG VX6000 unit, I downloaded an application by Logitech called Mobile Video (which is $5 a month plus airtime during use) that streams live video; I used it to check out a rather choppy view of traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. Inexplicably, you can also watch real-time surveillance of an anonymous car wash.
Some of Verizon's phones, including the Motorola V60p, allow you to use push-to-talk.
Whom Can You Trust?
Whether you plan to use your phone to check messages only occasionally or to stay connected around-the-clock, your first consideration in choosing a plan should be basic reliability. You want voice communication to be there when you need it, so make sure to check how good a prospective provider's coverage is in your area. Most cell phone companies offer a 14- to 30-day trial period in which you'll pay only for the minutes you use.
If you can't actually test the service by trying out a phone, talk to your neighbors, and consult Web sites such as PhoneScoop.com, WirelessAdvisor.com, or HowardChui.com, or a blog site such as MobileTracker.net, which includes advice and useful forums with first-hand user feedback about service providers. If you're planning to switch carriers, peruse PC World's tips in the article "Dialed In: You Can Take It With You."
Finally, think about how you'll use your cell phone and its services, and check the details of each plan before you sign on. If you're likely to spend a lot of time online, for example, you might want to look for a plan that charges you for the data--not the airtime--you use. After all, time will simply fly by when you're engrossed in watching that car wash parking lot.