Ten years ago, the sight of someone talking on a cell phone would prompt curiosity and awe. Prominent businessmen and doctors seemed to be the only ones with the financial means and use for them.
But in 2001, cell phones are becoming ubiquitous. Although these miraculous gadgets evoke scorn when they disrupt a class, a movie, good conversation or life in general, students said cell phones have their benefits.
The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association estimates about 121 million Americans subscribe to a cell phone service. From 1990-2000, the number of cell phone subscribers jumped 104,194,976.
Since the late 1990s, digital technology has allowed cell phone carriers to handle higher call volumes at a lower cost. Experts predict the prices will keep dropping as bandwidth – the amount of data that can be transmitted from one point to another in a certain amount of time – increases and becomes cheaper for carriers to provide.
Many GW students use cell phones as their main means of communication.
“My cell phone is a crucial part of my life,” sophomore Graham Smith said. “It’s nice to be able to call any one of my friends wherever I happen to be and not worry about long distance charges.”
Students cited long distance plans and accessibility for a fast-paced, urban lifestyle as reasons for getting a cell phone.
Even if a student is placing long distance calls to one person, such as a girlfriend or boyfriend in another state, a cell phone could dramatically reduce the price of an expensive necessity to keep in touch.
Affordable long distance is a feature offered by many cell phone service providers. Digital technology has also dramatically reduced the cost of placing a call anywhere in the United States, making long distance charges virtually nonexistent on most plans.
The ease of keeping in touch with mom, dad and others near and far also makes portable phones an attractive option.
Freshman Merissa Wolf said her parents gave her a cell phone when she came to college from Boston so they would be able to reach her more easily.
Cell phones also eliminate impatient waiting by the phone at home for a call too important to miss.
“Not being anchored to my house phone is a very nice feeling,” sophomore Billy Kotler said. “With my cell, I can go anywhere and not worry about missing calls.”
Having a cell phone also provides a sense of security for students relieved to know help is a call away in any emergency.
“If I’m stranded on the side of the road, I’ll have some way of getting in touch with someone to save me,” freshman Meredith Bissu said. She added that minutes and the included long distance of her plan were most important to her when selecting a phone.
Potential cell phone customers have several factors to consider before purchasing a phone and calling plan.
To open an account with a popular carrier such as Verizon, Sprint PCS, Voicestream, Cingular or AT&T, a subscriber will need to provide a credit card number or cash deposit of a couple hundred dollars. Billing is on a monthly basis with the exception of pre-paid customers.
Next, a customer should determine where they will place most of their calls and evaluate which wireless carriers are in the area. It is also wise to estimate the amount of time one plans to spent on the phone.
In evaluating a wireless carrier, be sure to look at the price of the service plan, amount of minutes offered, whether or not a contract is required and what phones are offered under them. The good news is there are plenty of great plans for students’ budgets ranging from $35 to $75 a month.
A contract will often provide some maneuverability to choose from any number of plans a particular carrier offers. Signing a one- or two-year commitment may get a great plan and free phone, but there is often a stiff cancellation fee – usually about $200 – in the off-chance a customer decides to leave early.
All wireless carriers are not created equal. They do not offer all the same phones or features, so it is entirely possible, although rare, to find the perfect service plan only to be disappointed by the types of phones offered and vice versa.
Students should be wary of plans that offer inordinate amounts of minutes each month. Just because a customer has an exorbitant amount of minutes does not equate to having the best plan, because unused minutes do not carry over to the next month.
New cell phone users should also be careful to monitor their usage. All carriers charge a penalty rate, formally known as “overage,” when users exceed their minutes, and this will inevitably take some novice users by surprise on the first bill. Exceeding a plan by 30 minutes could cost $10 to $12 extra in overage fees.
Once a customer has identified the plan and carrier, it is time choose a phone.
A phone should be scrutinized by its size, battery life, ease of use, style and electronic features.
Phones can range from free or heavily discounted with a mail-in rebate to about $600.
AT&T wireless consultant Tommy White said he has been selling many phones and plans while working at the entrance of the GW Bookstore. He cited price of the service plan and phone as the primary concern among interested students.
At GW, cell phones have a love/hate relationship with the student body.
“I got one mostly to keep in touch with my parents, but where I’m from it’s like a rite of passage where everybody has to have a cell phone to be cool,” freshman and Long Island native Zach Lemle said.
Other students still have not become entranced by the flashy covers and catchy ring tones of today’s cell phones.
“I feel like you lose out on your privacy,” senior Adam Laitman said. “There’s always room for people to contact you, wherever you are, at any point, and I just like having time to myself without anyone knowing my whereabouts.”