Archive for Monday, August 28, 2000

Callers switching to wireless

Simplicity, reduced costs entice consumers to hang up traditional phones

August 28, 2000


Confusing local calling areas.

Three different companies for local and toll calls, long-distance service and a cellular phone.

With the prices of cellular phones and calling plans dropping, some
people are deciding to cut the telephone chord and go totally
wireless. But cellular phones still have drawbacks and may not be
the best choice for all.

With the prices of cellular phones and calling plans dropping, some people are deciding to cut the telephone chord and go totally wireless. But cellular phones still have drawbacks and may not be the best choice for all.

The promise of a simple calling plan and the possibility of cheaper rates.

Such are the reasons people across the country are cutting cords to their traditional phones at home, and turning instead to wireless models for personal calls.

"We have lots and lots of customers, including students, who are using cellular phones as their main line rather than as even a second line," said Anne Schutt, marketing director for Verizon Wireless in Overland Park, whose coverage area includes Lawrence. "That's the kind of thing that's fueling our (annual) growth of 30 to 35 percent."

Making the switch

According to a study by the consulting company Yankee Group in Boston, about 2 percent, or 1.6 million, of the 80 million wireless phone subscribers nationwide in 1999 abandoned their traditional phone lines in favor of wireless phones for all their calls.

And another 2.3 million or so use their wireless phones for most of their calls, even though they have a phone line at home.

Cheaper wireless phones and reasonably priced calling plans with hundreds and sometimes thousands of minutes of use have made the switch possible. Most companies sell phones starting at $50 -- you'll have to sign a long-term lease to get a phone for free -- and offer calling packages for about the same monthly rate as an Ameritech line.

IDC, a Framingham, Mass., research firm, said the average household increased its use of wireless phones to 247 minutes a month in 1999, up from 155 minutes in 1998. The study concluded that affordable rates have made it possible for more people to spend more time on their wireless phones.

Nationwide networks that enable wireless phones to reach anywhere in the country, combined with new technology that improved the quality and security of phone calls, have propelled wireless phones into about half of all American homes.

But getting rid of your traditional home phone is a frightening thought for many people who have grown accustomed to having a phone line and who don't trust the reliability or privacy of wireless service.

Here are some of the benefits and disadvantages of using a wireless telephone instead of a traditional one:Pros* Simpler billing, one flat rate.* Can include long-distance, local toll calls.* Convenient, 24 hour access.* One number for mobile and home.* Many plans include voice mail, caller ID and call-waiting.* Many choices with companies and calling plans.* No telemarketing calls.Cons* Calls sometimes dropped.* Sometimes static.* Tied to phone.* Only one phone.* Sometimes can't get service or dial tone.* Additional charges if exceed time limits.* Internet connections slow and expensive.

And going all wireless has its share of quirks and problems:

Calls get dropped or cut off.

Some calls don't come in clearly.

Getting a dial tone can sometimes take a few tries with digital service when a connection is not immediately available.

And wireless callers don't want to spend a lot of time on hold even if it's a local or toll-free call, because all calls count toward monthly minute allotments.

So cutting the phone cord is not always a good alternative for everyone.

But it is an option for many people, particularly those who either live alone or have their own phone, don't spend much time at home and get billed additional per-minute charges on most of their calls.

Wireless simplicity

Many wireless plans include local toll and long-distance calls as part of their calling packages. This could add up to serious savings for residents in metropolitan areas who spend from tens to hundreds of dollars each month on toll calls to neighboring cities outside their local calling area.

Ryan Ringold, an independent telecommunications and utility marketer, figures he saves 50 percent a month using a wireless phone. The 28-year-old Ringold spends about $400 a month for about 4,000 minutes on his wireless service, which he uses for business and personal calls. He said his monthly bills would come close to $800 if he made the same calls on land-based phone lines.

For people who don't use as many minutes as Ringold, the savings would not be as big.

"In the four months since I replaced my home phone line with my wireless phone, I've saved about $20 to $30 a month from my previously $85 to $95 monthly bill," Ringold said. "Many of my family and friends live across southeastern Michigan or in other states."

Some wireless customers who still have wired home phones have quit using them for long-distance and local toll calls, opting instead to use the wireless plans that include those calls as part of the calling package.

Besides the savings, wireless calling plans offer simplicity. Many plans give callers a rate for a set number of minutes, regardless of where they call in the country. Ringold, who went all wireless about 18 months ago, says convenience led him to make the wireless leap.

"People have one number where they can get a hold of me at all times," he said.

But that 24-hour access can also become a drawback.

"My family and friends know my cell phone's in my pocket," said Gershon Askenazy of Detroit, who has turned to his wireless phone for all his calls. "They know when I'm choosing to turn off the phone or just not answer it."

Wireless woes

There are also some psychological problems that come along with going all wireless.

Customers can worry about exceeding minutes in a calling package, and cut some calls short out of fear of going overboard. Having a phone at work can be a safety net, used to make toll-free calls to utility companies, for example.

Wireless phone users can use their connections to log onto the Internet, but it wouldn't make a lot of sense for heavy Web surfers to have wireless Internet access at home because it's generally slower and more expensive than phone lines or cable connections.

Another drawback that would stop many from trading in a home phone line for a wireless phone is that there is only one phone per number, making it unattractive for families or homes with multi-phone users.

Existing technology does not allow a wireless number to operate on more than one phone, but companies are working on it.

Verizon, AT&T; Wireless and some other companies offer family calling plans that allow one family or household to share one account even though each member has his or her own phone. Under these plans, household members could use one big bundle of minutes among them.

And people who go all wireless never have to worry about getting calls from telemarketers. Federal law forbids telemarketers from calling cell phones or any number in which the person receiving the call must pay.

Consequently, wireless or cell phone numbers aren't available from directory assistance. The only people who know a person's wireless number are the people the phone owner gives the number to and the phone company that issued it.

But calling directory assistance on a wireless phone can get a little pricey. Most companies don't include calls to information or directory assistance. Each call for a number costs as much as 99 cents.

Still, fierce competition among wireless phone companies has been a boon to consumers.

Unlike wireless calling plans of the past, a growing number of wireless plans don't require long-term contracts and include many special features, such as call waiting, caller ID and voice mail at no additional cost.

Choice gives consumers power. For the most part, residential phone customers don't have much choice when it comes to choosing a land-line phone company.

But wireless customers usually have many options.

And if they don't like the service one company offers, they can switch to another.

"Competition keeps them honest," Ringold said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.