A few months ago, I said we'd be doing a guide to cell-phone service--resuming what was once a yearly tradition in these parts. The results appear today, in the form of my column and the accompanying chart comparing the offerings of the five nationwide carriers: AT&T, Nextel and Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.
(And, by way of comparison, here's the overview of wireless-phone service we did in 2005.)
Have a look at what we've put together this time, and if you have any questions about the work, post them here. In the meantime, a few other thoughts about the state of the wireless-phone industry, circa 2007:
* Although voice plans have gotten a good deal simpler--let's all rejoice that Nextel no longer has plans that don't include Caller ID or voicemail--there's still a staggeringly high number of options to consider. To help me fact-check the chart, an AT&T publicist e-mailed a spreadsheet summarizing all of its smartphone-data plans; it includes 14 different options, 13 of which include unlimited data access. I feel sorry for the salespeople who are supposed to refer to this document.
* The relatively high price of text messaging--which eats less bandwidth than voice calling, making text better than talk during emergencies and in areas with weak reception--continues to amaze me.
* The cell-phone industry seems to be mimicking the cable-TV industry in one aspect: Although it's happy to add more features to any given plan--between free night and weekend calls and free "mobile to mobile" calling to other people on the same network, it's getting harder all the time to max out your minutes--nobody seems interested in cutting pricing.
* Nextel seems to be toast. Between its weak coverage and its aging inventory of phones, I can see why the service has gotten crushed in customer-satisfaction surveys like Washington Consumer Checkbook's. I can also see why things might not get much better; although Sprint tells me that the Nextel network will continue to run through at least 2012, why would the company want to dump too much money into a wireless technology that almost nobody else uses?
* Speaking of wireless technologies, both of the major standards--GSM, used by AT&T and T-Mobile, and CDMA, employed by Sprint and Verizon--are perfectly capable of delivering clear voice calls and fast data connections. But CDMA services here lack the interoperability provided by the GSM standard's SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards. A GSM phone can be your property, not the carrier's (which, considering that phones in some countries can cost a sixth of a worker's yearly pay, is a big point). CDMA carriers could easily fix this by adopting a SIM-card equivalent called the Removable User Identity Module, but none in the U.S. can be bothered to do so.
Got any other comments, compliments, complaints or suggestions for a future version of this guide? The comments are yours...
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