Talk Is Cheap
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When it comes to long-distance phone rates, people will jump through hoops to get the best deal. Indeed, some entrepreneurs switch phone carriers nearly every month to tap into the latest savings plan. Although there are subscription services that allow small-business owners to automatically get the lowest long-distance rate available from several providers, the subscription fees often negate the savings.
Now a new type of phone from Uniden America Corp. (http://www.uniden.com) offers low-rate phone service every time you call. Simply buy one of Uniden's 900 MHz Long Distance Manager cordless phones, either the EXL 8900 ($49.95 street) or the EXLI 8962 ($89.95 street), press a button on the handset and then dial the long-distance number you want to reach. The phone will access a database of many long-distance carriers and automatically assign your call one of the lowest rates available. If you make a lot of long-distance calls, Uniden's phones could save you a lot of money in the long run.
Gene Koprowski has covered the tech industry for 10 years and writes a monthly computing column for The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Headsets aren't just for operators anymore.
Remember the recurrent sketch on Laugh-In where Lily Tomlin played Ernestine, the bureaucratic, headset-wearing telephone operator? In those days, the average viewer would have never owned such a contraption. Telephone headsets were the purview of operators and call centers, and were generally associated with big-business culture. Not so today. More and more entrepreneurs who want to take calls but also keep their hands free for other tasks are turning to headsets.
Today's technologies are not the clunky tools of the past. Current headsets offer all kinds of innovative features, such as noise-canceling microphones, which provide great audio performance. They're made of lightweight materials, not heavy, protruding, metal parts, and come in many different colors. There's also an array of styles, not just a series of one-size-fits-all solutions: You can choose from over-the-head, on-the-ear and in-the-ear headsets.
With a phone headset, both the earpiece and mouthpiece are positioned optimally for hearing and speaking. You don't have to hunch over or cradle the phone on your neck, activities that can lead to back and neck strain.
The major makers of phone headsets are Plantronics Inc. (http://www.plantronics.com), GN Netcom Inc. (http://www.gnnetcom.com) and ACS (http://www.acs.com). (Although GN Netcom recently bought ACS, it still sells the company's products.) Prices for low-end headsets start at $29.95 (street) throughout the industry but can exceed $100 for products with features like Internet telephony.
Data messaging is quite the rage.
Given the choice, would you rather listen to your voice-mail messages or read your e-mail? According to technology guru Andrew Seybold, editor of The Outlook on Communications and Computing newsletter, at least 30 percent of the world's wireless customers will opt for data correspondence over phone communications in the next few years.
"With text-based messages, you can sort and prioritize your messages, and respond to the most urgent ones first, without having to [go through] them serially," explains Seybold. Wireless messaging devices like 3Com's PalmPilot (http://www.palmpilot.com) and other hand-held computers are growing in popularity because they're fast, they're cheaper than a call, and they provide a permanent record of transactions.
Could that mean the death of the telephone answering machine? Probably not, but in the not-too-distant future, people are likely to send more text-based messages in answer to questions about products or meeting dates and places. Seybold says continued technological innovations will mark the wireless field, and smaller firms will be the leaders in these advances.