Faith goes cellular – case study of a real estate agent’s selection of a cellular phone and carrier – includes advice on selecting a cellular phone

Faith goes cellular – case study of a real estate agent’s selection of a cellular phone and carrier – includes advice on selecting a cellular phone – Tutorial

Stuart F. Crump, Jr.

HOME OFFICE COMPUTING Follows A Buyer on Her Search for a Cellular Phone And Service

FAITH ECHOLS NO LONGER CONSIDERS HERSELF A tenderfoot when it comes to cellular phones, but she was not always so wise.

The ability to communicate plays a major role in her success as a real estate agent. “My cellular phone has helped me achieve and maintain my membership in the Million Dollar Club,” she says. Echols began her career more than seven years ago as a licensed real estate agent for her father’s agency. Today she works for Long and Foster, the biggest agency in the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., area.

When she decided to purchase her first cellular phone, a bewildering array of choices confronted her. “I spent more than two months in intense deliberation,” she admits. “I visited a dozen stores and agents, read magazine articles, studied the product literature, and compared the equipment and service as best I could.”

Echols soon discovered that she had three major choices to make: which cellular carrier she should use (the phone company that provides the cellular service); which specific model of cellular phone would best suit her needs; and from which dealer or agent she should purchase the phone and service. To her, the decisions were equally important.

Choosing a Carrier “When I looked at the newspaper ads and the yellow pages, I discovered several places where I could buy the phone, but I quickly learned I had only two carrier choices,” she explains. In most areas one of these carriers operaters under the name Cellular One, the other under MobiLink. But company names and affiliations vary from market to market. In Echols’s area those carriers are Cellular One and Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems (BAM). In San Francisco the two carriers are Cellular One and GTE Mobilnet (the MobiLink carrier). In Chicago they are Cellular One-Chicago and Ameritech Cellular Services (the MobiLink carrier).

Echols chose Cellular One, basing her decision on the most common criteria for selecting a carrier.

Coverage area. Under the plan she chose, “Cellular One had a greater local calling are [more than 13,000 squre miles] than BAM [just under 12,000 square miles],” Echols explains. Local calling area refers to the size of the region in which you can make a local call without paying a long-distance charge, also known as a roaming fee (more on this to follow). Because Echols covers such a large territory in her real estate work, she felt that Cellular One’s larger local calling area would save her quite a bit. Far more important, though, was that the places whee Echols traveled were included in Cellular One’s coverage.

Monthly access fee or airtime charges. The Cellular One monthly service charge for Echols is $24 plus 39 cents per minute prime time (7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday) and 19 cents per minute off peak. BAM charges just $1 more for monthly access and the same per-minute charges for a slightly smaller local calling area. Although the difference in charges was slight, Echols felt it would add up over time. Both carriers also add a small fee for each local call made to landline (regular wired) phone, but this is minimal–10 cents per call.

Roaming fees. These vary considerably from carrier to carrier and market to market, and they may include both a daily charge ($2 to $3) plus a perminute usage charge (50 cents to $1 or more). When Echols signed up, the difference in cost for cities she visited frequently was 50 cents per minute with Cellular One versus 99 cents per minute with BAM. “We go to Philadelphia and Atlantic City quite often her both business of pleasure,” she says, and she uses her phone frequently when in those cities.

With today’s cellular systems, roaming is simple. Whne you travel to a city away from your local area, you just pick up your phone and dial. The roaming charges appear automatically on your next cellular bill. Receiving calls is almost as easy. Most of the major markets today offer automatic roaming; when someone dials your cellular number, the call is forwarded automatically to you in the city you are visiting.

Finding a Phone Echols’s next decision was choosing a cellular phone. But each of the more than two dozen manufacturers–including AT&T, Nokia, and OKI–offers several differnt models, with varying features and at a wide range of prices–from $50 to $800.

“I decided to stick with the tried-and-true celular manufacturer, Motorola, one of the oldest in the business,” she explains. “Motorola phones are supposed to be quite durbale. You can basically drop one four feet onto concrete without hurting it.” Because Echols is a realtor and spends a lot of time at commercial and construction sites, building lots, and farms, durability was high on her list.

Next came the decision on types of phone (see “Selecting Your Phone”). If Echols were getting one for security or peace of mind, a lower-priced unit ($50 or so) would have filled the bill. “But for business, you need to go for the more advanced model with all the features,” she says, “such as the data link that connects the phone to your laptop computer.”

Her decision was easy. Because the spends a lot of time working from her car, she settled on a portable: one of Motorola’s popular flip phones, the MicroTAC Ultra Lite, which weights less than a half pound and slips easily into her pocket or purse. She paid $750. “It certainly wasn’t the cheapest one avilable,” Echols says, but she especially likes the phone’s VibraCall option. “If I’m in an important meeting, I set the phone on the vibrator ring. When I get a call, it vibrates silently and does not disturb the meeting.”

She also selected a vehicle adapter kit, which added another of $150 to the price of her phone. When she gets into the car, she slides the phone into the special cradle so that it works like a standard car phone. A hands-free adapter kit lets her keep both hands on the wheel while talking on the phone. “It’s a safety feature, and it’s more convenient,” she says.

The Dealer Decision Her final choice was to select her cellular dealer, or who would sell her the phone and activate the service. Because she had already selected Cellular One, she sought a dealer who was a Cellular One agent. “I didn’t like how pushy so many of the dealers were,” she exclaims.

Echols decided on Mid-Atlantic Cellular, a local Cellular One dealer near her real estate office. She found term courteous, knowledgeable, and professional. “They don’t try to hard sell you,” she says. Mid-Atlantic Cellular was also willing to match any deal offered by any other cellular company in town, she notes. But price was a less-important factor in her decision. She was impresed that their service included delivery and a free loaner phone if something went wrong with her phone unit.

Has Echols picked up any other tips that she would like to share with first-time buyers?

“Dont’s be fooled by advertisement for free or almost free cellular phones,” she says. “Be sure you understand what else is required on your part.” Frequently, you need to sign a service agreement for a certain period of time, perhaps a year or so, and you could get hit with a large penalty if you disconnect early. “Also look for hidden charges. Sometimes the free phone requires you to pay a programmind or processing fee, special charges, activation fees, and so on,” Echolas says.

“You usually get what you pay for,” she concludes, “but with cellular, you get more than what you pay for. Cellular gives your something that money can’t buy–extra time. A cellular phone lets me turn downtime into selling time.”

Related article: Selecting Your Phone

Cellular phones come in four basic models: mobile (mounted in the car), transmobile (a mobile phone not permanently mounted in the car; it draws its power by plugging into the cigarette lighter), transporable (similar to transmobile, except that it has a separte battery pack and thus can be used outside a car), and portable (a one-piece, self-contained unit that fits in the palm of the hand).

Which one is best for you depends on how and where you intend to use your phone. If you’re getting the phone just for emergency use, the less-expensive (under $100) transmobile may fit your needs.

If you spend most of the day in your car on business, the mobile ($50 to $300) will always be available at your fingertips.

If you spend time traveling between cities or from office to office, the handheld portable ($50 to $800) may be your best choice.

The heavier transportable ($50 to $300) is good for locations such as construction sites where you need its longer-life, heavy-duty battery.

Most cellular phones on the market are analog. In a few cities digital cellular is now comiong online. Digital promies a clearer signal and somewhat improved privacy, but it is also quite expensive ($200 to $500 more). Cellular carriers have promised to provide service fo rboth types of phones for the next decade, at least. So you needn’t feel pressured to switched to digital just yet.

Here is a list of features that you might want to look for in your phone.

Hands-free speakerphone. If you plan to frequently use your phone while driving, this feature is safer and more convenient than holding the handset to your ear and is available with most mobile. If you already have a portable phone, you cann purchase a hands-free adapter.

Alphanumeric memory. Store up to 100 (or more) phone numbers in memory for easy access by name.

Any-button answer. You can touch any button to answer the phone–much better than searching frantically for a small button while driving.

Hot buttons. Like speed dialing, you can dialk up to three frequently called numbers at the touch of a single button.

Car adapter. If you buy a portable, get a car adapter with a three-watt booster for use in the car.

Voice-activated dialing. Dial the phone by the sound of your voice (a good safety feature when driving).

Built-in pager. Your phone acts as a pager, flashing each caller’s number. You then decide if the call is important enough to return on expensive cellular time.

Dual- or multi-NAM. The phone can be linked to two or more carriers, each with a different phone number. For example, if you live in Baltimore and travel frequently to New York, you could obtain a second, New York number for your phone. When visiting New York, you’ll pay only local New Yiork rates, rather than the higher roaming fee.

Computer and fax compatibility. You can plug a cellular fax/modem into the phone and transmit data wirelessly.

Special services. Like features on your home phone, these include call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling, no-answer transfer, and voice mail. They range from free to a few dollars per month.

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