The first thing you need to decide is what carrier you want. There are three major carriers: CDMA, GSM, and iDEN (Nextel). If you travel abroad often then you will want either a tri- or quad- band GSM phone (900, 1800, or 1900), or simply shop for what's called a world phone. GSM carriers are T-Mobile and AT&T. Otherwise, for those who don't travel frequently, a CDMA carrier such as Sprint or Verizon will work fine. By going directly to the manufacturer's website you can peruse the different carrier's tower locations as well as their coverage maps to get a better idea of which carrier will work best in the area where you live. CDMA and GSM Guide at Wikipedia.
Alltel, US Cellular, and Metro PCS.
* '''Pros:''' Less expensive than bigger carriers. Local and and national plans available, as well as some prepaid plans. Some have picture messaging as well as push-to-talk services. Some have very flexible calling plans (without restricted hours or limited minutes).
* '''Cons:''' Some carriers don't offer the newest, most technologically stunning phones.
* '''Bottom Line:''' Good bargain, decent coverage and customer service.
* '''Pros:''' Best prepaid plan offers good customer service and easy refilling.
* '''Cons:''' Must be within Sprint network.
* '''Bottom Line:''' Perfect for the budget conscious consumer who uses their phone infrequently, or for a child and/or young adult.
Choosing a Plan: Usage
This is the most important factor to consider when choosing a wireless plan.
Ask yourself these two main questions:
* ''How much do I talk each month? ''Find out how many total, as well as peak and off-peak minutes you get.
* ''What time of day do I talk most?'' Check the hours for peak and off-peak minutes.
* Consider whether you need local, national, or international coverage. Metro areas, such as the tri-state may only require local coverage. However if you move outside your region you will need regional coverage, whereas a traveler will need national or international coverage. You might also want to ask your friends and family about which companies get the best service in your area.
* Consider whether you want a shared or family plan. Verizon's deal is the cheapest at $10 extra per month. Sprint's goes for $25.
* Check for plans that allow free in-network calling, such as Verizon's "In" program and AT&T's M2M (mobile to mobile).
* ALWAYS over estimate to avoid paying hefty fees for going over minutes.
* ALWAYS read the fine print on what calls you get charged for: incoming, outgoing, check voice mailbox, free in-network calling, and what fees are for roaming as well as for overtime minutes.
* If you don't talk often or if your talking habits are not very regular, you may want to opt for a prepaid plan.
The Fine Print: Cost Adds Up Quick
* Don't forget to factor in activation fees for new plans (usually around $30).
* Extra costs are plentiful- messaging, using the internet, sending photos, national surcharges, etc.
* Canceling your contract can come with hefty fees (some around $200 or more).
* 411 sounds like 911... Use it in emergencies only unless you don't mind paying the extra $1.50 a call.
* Insurance usually runs about $5 a month, but it may be worth it if your phone ever gets lost, stolen, or broken.
* '''Analog vs. Digital''': Most carriers have switched over to digital, but there are still some analog networks still functioning. If you know that you will often be in a rural area, the ability to have analog roaming is the best option.
* '''Customer Service''': The reliability of a company is a major factor in choosing a carrier. Before you buy, check to find out if the carrier offers a trial grace period so that you can test for reception before being stuck in a two-year contract.