The average cell phone bill hasn't changed much this year, but cell phone plans sure have, reports Charles Mahla, senior economist at Econ One Research.
For starters, more national carriers are following Sprint in making every call a local one. AT&T Digital One Rate, Cingular Nationand Verizon America's Choicelet you avoid some or all roaming and domestic long-distance surcharges, which can reach 69 cents per minute. Monthly minimums are higher, of course, and plan terms vary by city. The largess is the result of carriers renegotiating downward the fees they pay each other when a customer uses a competing network. Also, their coverage areas include a larger range these days.
Taiwan has more mobile phones than citizens, with
per 100 people.
A trickier opportunity is the ridiculous amounts of "free" minutes carriers have begun offering--ridiculous, says Mahla, because they must be used in a shrinking window of time. Typical is the 3,500 free weeknight and weekend minutes from Cingular Nation--a very generous two hours each day. You have to use those minutes after 9 p.m. on weeknights, which isn't so bad if you're calling west.
But an Angeleno can't call a New Yorker for free before midnight in the Big Apple. All carriers are moving nighttime closer to bedtime, so some of those "free" calls may end up eating into your monthly minute allotment, beyond which they can cost 40 cents per minute. Review your calling patterns first, then your plan--carefully.
Mike Hoganis Entrepreneur's technology editor.