Pennywise or Phone Foolish

Pennywise or Phone Foolish – Industry Trend or Event

Douglas Gantenbein

Six ways to save money on wireless service

FORTUNATELY, MAKING A WIRELESS CALL no longer requires a quick check on the bank account to see if there’s enough dough to cover the call. In the late 1980s, when public usage of wireless phones first began, average monthly bills were about $100. Now that figure is down to $40 and will continue to drop as wireless coverage improves and a growing number of carriers compete for your business, according to Econ One, a Los Angeles-based wireless research and consulting firm. Still, whether you’re a heavy wireless user or only an occasional caller, it’s well worth your business’ bottom line to figure out how to reduce your monthly bill. Here’s some advice:

Know thyself The best and easiest way to save on wireless phone bills is to have the right calling plan. Wireless calling time is almost always purchased in a fixed amount for a fixed price–for instance, 1,500 minutes for $39.95 a month. The smart wireless phone user picks, a plan that doesn’t waste any minutes.

“People don’t use communications services by saying, `Oh, I have 100 minutes left this month, so I’d better use the phone,'” says Charles Mahla, senior economist and analyst with Econ One. “You may think you’re getting a good deal, but if you’re not using all the minutes in your calling plan, the per-minute cost goes way up.”

Start with a low per-minute plan (or a pay-as-you-go wireless phone card), then take a close look at your statements over two or three months. Barring some wild card–an unexpected business trip that caused a lot of wireless use or a vacation during which you turned the phone off–this should give you a good idea of how many minutes you need.

You should also examine where your calls go, whether most are made from home or on the road. Most carriers offer plans that are skewed in favor of different calling regions. Verizon Wireless, for instance, offers local, regional, and national calling plans, each with a different mix of minutes and long-distance charges. If you call mostly within your metro area, Verizon’s Star 400 plan gives you 400 minutes of calls for $39.95, and no roaming charges when making calls within your home area (60 cents per minute outside the area).

Similarly, if most calls are made regionally, it might be cost-effective to purchase wireless coverage from the Baby Bell that already offers you wired service, as you’ll get a price break for tossing both wired and wireless business their way. Qwest Communications, for instance, offers its wired-phone subscribers wireless plans that include a $35-a-month plan with 300 minutes, and free long distance within Qwest’s coverage area.

Compare plans The biggest challenge in finding the right wireless phone plan is sorting through the many offers made in any single market. Throw in long distance, roaming, Internet access or other extras, and things really get complicated. “Wireless companies don’t want you comparing apples to apples,” says Sasha Novakovich, co-founder and president of GetConnected Inc., a Boston-based price-comparison site. “But while a lot of things have an impact on your wireless bill–whether you have a lot of long incoming calls, even how often you check voice mail–fundamentally you have to be on the right plan.”

For better comparisons, head for the Web. A number of sites offer shoppers side-by-side comparisons of particular plans, or recommend plans based on a customer’s specific needs.,,,, and all have information on the fine print of every offer available in your area, as well as member and expert reviews of different wireless phone services.

Think ahead Last summer, when Atlanta-based freelance public relations consultant Barbie Pressly was planning a vacation, she figured she wouldn’t need her wireless phone for a few weeks. To save money, she switched her AT&T calling plan from a heavy-usage plan to a cheaper one temporarily. “AT&T lets you change mid-month, so I did,” Pressly says. “For that month, I paid $59 rather than my usual $150. I switched back to my regular plan when I got back.” Pressly saved nearly $100 the month she vacationed. You can do the same by contacting your provider and finding out if you can switch plans from month to month.

Know your area Although roaming rates aren’t as high as they were four or five years ago, they still can run 30 cents a minute or more. So it pays to know exactly what your provider considers a “home” region. Select a calling plan and carrier that provides the lowest rate for your highest-use region, and be sure to check the carrier’s Web site for a map of your home area. Look carefully–that weekend retreat where you hope to work remotely may be outside the base coverage area, as may be a city to which you frequently travel.

Avoid long-term contracts The bug-bear of the wireless industry is “churn,” the term used for the movement of wireless users from one provider to another. If at all possible, don’t sign up for more than a year of service with one provider. Often carriers tie a long-term contract to low-priced or free phones, and want you around long enough to cover the cost. So if you already own a phone, ask for the shortest contract possible or no commitment at all. AT&T does not offer such a plan, for instance, but Verizon does, with a $10 per month base charge and 70 cents a minute for calls.

Use your clout Most customer-service representatives have leeway to make exceptions to published rates, so you can negotiate for the lowest possible rates, shortest contracts, and cheapest phones. Savvy carriers are catching on to this. For example, Verizon calls new customers to make sure everything is working properly with their phone, and will use its own in-house system to slice and dice a customer’s past bills to recommend the most economical calling plan. “If a customer isn’t sure what they need, one of our salespeople will pre-qualify them to get them on the right plan,” says John Mara, director of national pricing for Verizon.

Finally, remember that wireless companies like to sell their high-end phones, with Web functions, page capability, and tiny form factors. But wireless phones have come so far in the past five years that even low-end models are extremely compact and offer great sound quality. So focus on your business, not the phone, and wait for lower wireless bills to come calling.

Great Rates

Stephen Gross, owner of the Clarendon House in Boston, found the best rates for his B&B through (877-406-OMNI), a comparative shopping site. After he filled in some information about his calling patterns, rifled through dozens of calling plans and recommended the best ones for Gross’s business. “I need to make business decisions all day, so it’s great to have a one-stop place where you can check ever-changing telephone service prices,” he says.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group