Cell phone confusion uncovered

Cell phones are everywhere. They are in classrooms, on campus and in pockets. But with the rapidly expanding universe of wireless communication, choosing the right plan can be overwhelming.

“Picking a phone company was confusing because there were so many options,” said Crystal Worlds, a senior health information management student from St. Petersburg.

Different cell phone companies like Verizon, Sprint PCS, Cingular, Alltel and U.S. Cellular meet different needs for different customers.

Anthony Geronimo, president and CEO of The Beeper Kings, said students want good service at reasonable prices.

“Students are usually looking for a plan with free nights and weekends and travel flexibility,” he said.

Lakesha Hay, a first-year pharmacy student from Jacksonville, said she uses Sprint PCS because she travels frequently.

“I use my cell phone when I travel, just in case I have an emergency,” she said. “I also want people to reach me when I’m away.”

Geronimo said Verizon, Cingular and Sprint PCS are the most popular services for students because of their travel flexibility.

With complete national, regional and local service, Verizon Wireless customers are less likely to travel out of service range than with companies like VoiceStream or Sprint PCS, whose national networks are limited to large cities.

“Wireless is not perfect,” Geronimo said.

Before committing to a calling plan, consumers must realize that they are going to have problems from time to time.

Josh Hetzel, district manager of Bobby Allison Wireless, said the most common problems associated with cell phone services are dropped calls, busy signals, rate changes and poor service quality.

“I have changed my phone service twice because I was dissatisfied with my service,” said Delisha Peterson, a junior graphic design student from Birmingham, Ala.

The first step toward achievement of satisfactory service is to understand how to shop for a cellular plan. The Better Business Bureau advises consumers to shop around for the best prices of the plan that meets the individual needs of the consumer.

“The customer should decide what he or she is going to use the phone for, then become educated about available plans,” Geronimo said.

At stores like The Beeper Kings, where all of the big phone companies are under one roof, customers are able to customize their service plans.

“We do the comparison shopping for the customer. We are able to meet very specific needs because we are not bound to selling the services for just one company,” Geronimo said.

The Beeper Kings sell Verizon, VoiceStream, Sprint PCS, Cingular, Nextel and U.S. Cellular. Another tip from the Better Business Bureau is to budget carefully. Determine the monthly amount available for these types of expenses. The bureau urges consumers not to add to debt, especially since many services offer to bill directly to customer credit cards.

The bureau also advises consumers to check for hidden fees and rate changes.

Hetzel and Geronimo both said cell customers should be cautious when signing up for promotional packages. Providers frequently offer sign-up discounts when the real rates begin months later.

Customers should also evaluate services at least every six months.

“We always like our customers to come in every now and then to reevaluate their service agreement because usage patterns tend to change,” Hetzel said.

With so many service plans available, consumers need to be educated. Information regarding calling plans and rates can be obtained by visiting company Web sites.

” Get as much information as possible so you will know what you want. Knowledge will make consumers feel more confident while shopping,” Geronimo said.