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Cellular Plan Options for High-Volume User

The regional sales manager finds he can reduce his $600-plus monthly bill by more than half just by switching carriers.

October 19, 2000|ELIZABETH DOUGLASS |

Leo Williams II uses several mobile phones and pays more than $600 a month on service. Naturally, he would like to spend less. We took a look at his monthly bill and zeroed in on the mobile phone that he uses heavily for work since it accounts for the largest share of the usage and charges.

We also reviewed how he uses the phone and which features are important to him. Williams, a regional sales manager for the medical equipment firm Guidant Sales Corp., is based in Los Angeles but travels throughout his sales region, which includes San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield and Lancaster.

According to his 17-page monthly bill from Verizon Communications, Williams makes and receives more than 900 calls and logs more than 3,000 minutes on his wireless phone each month--making him a "10" on a 1-to-10 scale of mobile phone usage.

The vast majority--more than 80%--of his calls are during peak-price weekday business hours. Because he manages 11 sales representatives, he also receives an unusually large number of incoming calls, accounting for 41% of his total usage. Because of his frequent travel, it's important for Williams to have a plan that does not impose roaming or long-distance charges across a wide swath of California.

We quickly narrowed our choices to Verizon (he already has their best plan for his kind of usage), Sprint PCS and Nextel Communications because plans from Cingular Wireless (formerly Pacific Bell Wireless) and AT&T Corp. did not offer big enough packages of minutes, charged too much for each extra minute and/or did not include all the features Williams needs.

Sprint PCS offered a great plan with 4,000 monthly minutes for $400, plus included extras such as wireless Web service. But we eliminated that option because it's unclear how much of Williams' territory would be covered by the company's own network instead of automatically switching over to roam on another carrier's network, which could cost as much as 94 cents per minute in roaming and long-distance fees.

Ultimately, Nextel won out, largely because of a promotion that will make all of Williams' incoming calls free through the end of 2001. In the end, we showed him how he could save more than $300 a month. Without that change, Nextel's best plan would cost about $590, or nearly $55 more per month than Williams' current package.

However, it's likely that Williams would save money with Nextel even when the free-incoming-calls promotion ends. That's because Nextel bills calls by the second, after the first minute--which could significantly reduce the number of minutes Williams' currently gets billed for under Verizon's per-minute billing policy.

In addition, if members of his sales staff shift to Nextel too, Williams can use an unlimited number of minutes contacting them through Nextel's "direct connect" technology, a two-way radio-type system unique to Nextel. That would further reduce Williams' per-month minute tally.

And finally, Nextel charges $3 per month for the addition of voicemail service, but it makes up for it by including unlimited numeric paging and unlimited use of its basic mobile Internet service, including access to MSN Mobile, shopping and 300 text pages--without those calls counting against monthly minutes under current promotions.

Williams could upgrade the mobile Web service to get more features for an extra $5 or $10 per month.

The downside is that the switch to Nextel could cost Williams $150 to disconnect early from Verizon service, plus $200 or so for a new phone that will work on Nextel's network. Also, Nextel's Web site claims to have coverage in the cities on Williams' hit list, but he'll need to make sure about that before buying in.


Times staff writer Elizabeth Douglass covers telecommunications.


This Week's Make-Over

Current service

* Carrier: Verizon Wireless

* Plan: Los Angeles Digital Plus 3000

* Plan price: $224.95/month

* Included monthly minutes: 3,000, plus 500 free minutes on nights and weekends, 1,000 free mobile-to-mobile minutes

* Extra minutes: 25 cents each

* Billing: Call duration rounded up to the nearest minute

* Details: Long-distance at 15 cents/minute; free roaming in five states; free deluxe voicemail; calling features included

* Recent bill: $535 in August

Recommended service

* Carrier: Nextel Communications

* Plan: National Business Plan 2000

* Base price: $199.95

* Included monthly minutes: 2,000

* Extra minutes: 25 cents each

* Billing: Call duration clocked to the nearest second after the first minute

* Details: No roaming charges; no long-distance charges; free incoming calls (promotion through December 2001); voicemail at $3 per month; unlimited numeric paging; some calling features included, but call forwarding costs 10 cents a minute.

* Estimated bill: $216.25, based on August usage and current Nextel pricing--a savings of $318.75

Key factors to consider when choosing a plan

* Level of usage per month, measured in total minutes.

* Timing of greatest usage, day (peak) or night (off-peak), weekdays or weekends.

* Service coverage. Does the service provider have a reliable signal in the areas you will frequent?

* Traveling considerations. How often will you be using your phone outside the designated "home" coverage area? Is there service where you travel? Those out-of-region calls could cost substantially more in extra "roaming" charges.

* Important features. Many plans include call waiting and caller ID, but some plans charge extra for voicemail and some charge an added per-minute fee when using call forwarding.

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