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Cell Terms


Confused about wireless? Here's a quick translation of common wireless terminology:

Air time: Time spent talking on a wireless phone. Most carriers bill customers based on how many minutes of air time they use each month.

Analog: Method of carrying radio signals for wireless phones, using a steady signal. The analog system is older than digital and has a wider coverage area.

Digital: Method of carrying radio signals that breaks a voice message into binary computer code and sends it in short bursts. The bits are then decoded back into a voice message. Digital technology provides clearer calls without static, greater security and longer battery life. But wireless providers are still building digital networks and there are gaps in coverage.

Calling party pays: Person making the call to a wireless phone pays for the call, rather than the person receiving it. This service is available on a limited basis in the U.S.

Dual mode: Phone works on both analog and digital networks.

Tri-mode: Phone works in the analog and digital mode and also in a higher digital frequency that allows the user to send and receive text messages and access the Internet.

PCS: Personal communication system. A PCS phone is capable of voice messaging, text messaging, Internet access and data retrieval.

Bundling: Grouping various telecommunications services, such as cellular, Internet and paging, as a package to increase appeal to customers.

Local calling area: Region in which the call is truly local, involving no toll charges.

Peak: The part of the business day in which wireless customers can expect to pay full-service rates.

Off-peak: Periods of time, usually after the business day has ended, during which carriers offer discounted air time charges. Carriers define off-peak hours differently.

Roaming: Traveling outside a carrier's local calling area. Charges are higher for calls made outside the local area.

Service charge: Fixed amount customer pays each month to receive wireless service.

Smart phone: Can receive data, such as text messages, not just voice calls.

Voice activation: Allows a subscriber to dial a phone via spoken commands instead of manually punching in numbers.


Sources: Cellular Telecommunications Industry Assn., Federal Communications Commission

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