How can you make sure you're getting a good deal on a mobile phone call plan? Answering the following questions will set you well on the way to sorting out what you need.
How will you use your phone?
It's worth thinking carefully about your likely usage pattern before you sign up — for example, for short emergency calls only, for social calls in off-peak times, or lots of business calls in peak times. You don't want to pay for a plan that has more or fewer calls than you need.
When will you use the phone most?
It pays to find out precisely how a plan you're considering defines 'peak'. As a rule, though, business hours are considered peak. Off-peak tends to be after 8 pm during the week, and all weekend. Look out for 'graded' peak and off-peak times, such as 'economy' or 'weekend' rates, that are even cheaper again.
Does the area covered suit you?
Choose coverage based on where you work, live and play, and decide between a GSM or CDMA network. If you're in a metropolitan or urban area you'll probably get a GSM connection, in a remote area you may want to connect to CDMA.
Get copies of the service providers' coverage maps to find out which network best covers the areas you need. However, coverage maps don't give you the whole story, so you also need to ask:
- Are there any 'flat spots' or 'shadows' in these areas — locations where reception won't be as good?
- Does the handheld coverage differ from the car coverage?
Also, check the networks' coverage maps:
Contract or prepaid call plans?
If you're used to paying regular monthly bills, you'll probably be comfortable with a call plan with a contract. You need to know:
- What are the upfront costs?
- Are they on top of the connection fee?
- How much is the monthly access fee?
- How long is the contract period?
- The cost of calls at different times to different areas.
If you're buying a handset with your contract, this information can help you work out the total cost of the plan and relate it to the value of the phone.
Prepaid phone plans are becoming increasingly popular: once you have a phone, you just buy a card, call a phone number and type in the ID number printed on the card, transferring the value of the card to your account.
The advantages of a prepaid card include:
- Not having to commit to a specific length of time.
- Having more control over how much you spend.
- Paying only a one-off fee, including the connection fee and a number of prepaid calls at fixed rates.
The disadvantages include:
- If you don't use 'em you lose 'em. The card is usually valid for one to three months, depending on the carrier.
- You need to be able to buy new cards easily.
- Call costs are high.
What will it cost?
If you're tempted by a plan with lower call charges, it may mean a higher monthly access cost. To help you compare costs, companies must provide you with a total cost of the plan, but this still may not include all call charges.
Can you access extra services?
Most mobile services now come with voicemail. But there's an increasing number of other services either available now or on their way, such as:
- Call waiting
- Directory services
- Short message service (SMS)
- Caller ID
- Internet access
- Email notification
- Receiving faxes
If any of these services sound attractive to you, find out what's on offer from the service providers and how much you're going to be paying.
What do your friends and family use?
You can often save money on calls if you use the same network as the people you call regularly. Most providers offer cheap or even free calls within their network during off-peak times.