Before you start clogging the airwaves there, tiger, you've still got a lot of work to do. You have to determine where you're going to use the phone most, and when you're going to use it most. In other words, you've got to choose a service plan.

Determine where you will use your phone

Where you will use your phone will determine whether you get a long distance plan or not. Some plans focus on giving you a good deal if you stay in a certain area, and only make local calls. Other plans allow more leeway for travel and long distance calls, by giving you a less expensive rate for long distance, while ignoring where your calls are made from and who you are calling.

If you want a cell phone because you travel all over the continental U.S. of A. and need to be in continuous contact with the home office, that is one thing. If you are super-paranoid about the only trip you ever make – the two-block drive to church - and want a cell phone in case the Almighty decides to smite you en route, that is quite another. You may recognize the different sorts of plans from your land-based home phone. You can get different deals from your phone company if you mainly call locally, or if you frequently call long distance.

A word about traveling, by the way: You will probably hear the phrase "roaming" thrown about. "Roaming" is when you make a call outside your Home Service Area (where you set up your account). Usually, an additional charge is levied for this service. More and more companies are now providing plans with no roaming charges, so it may be a good idea to check the policy of the plan you are interested in to see how it is addressed.

The bottom line is, when you get a cell phone, you're going to have to contact a local service provider, because it's their airwaves you'll be using. To find a provider nearest to you (and to find out about every single deal they offer), go to LetsTalk.com. Type in your zip code, and it'll direct you to your nearest providers, as well as tell you about each one.

Consider when your calls are made

The times of day and day of the week that you will use your phone are also important variables in choosing a service provider and airtime deal. Once you join cell-phone-world, you'll be bombarded with offer after offer. They usually revolve around "nights and weekends." Free nights and weekends typically gives you uncharged minutes from 9:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. from Monday to Thursday, and from 9:00 p.m. Friday to 9:00 a.m. Monday morning. However, if you want the phone primarily for your business use, you would want to focus on the Monday through Friday daytime deals you could get. For example, AT&T offers one rate for anytime you call – including daytime.

Once you have decided where, when, and for how long you are planning to use your phone, you are ready to contact service providers, and see if they have plans that not only fit your needs, but do so for the least amount of money.

Determine if you want web access

Now, lots of providers are offering web browsing as part of their service plan. You need to make sure that your cell phone is Internet ready before you choose this option. If you're the type of person who has to know the latest sports scores and stock quotes no matter where you are, then you might want to get web access as part of your service plan. If you sign up for web access, you will get a certain number of messages or updates that you get to choose. For example, suppose you want to know when your favorite stock is going up. You can set up an update to inform you whenever this occurs. You can do similar things with sports scores, the weather, or even your horoscope.

You can also browse the web just like on your computer, save for the fact that there are no graphics, and the cell phone does not support all websites (like those with Shockwave, for example). While you're browsing, you'll be eating up minutes of your plan though, so be careful not to get too wound up in the web.

Pick a plan

Here is a list of contact numbers for some of the larger service providers.

AT&T Wireless Services1-800-888-7600
Bell Atlantic Mobile1-800-922-0204
BellSouth Mobility1-404-249-5000
Cellular One1-800-CELL-ONE
GTE Wireless Services1-800-677-2109
MCI Worldcom1-800-444-3333
Omnipoint Communications1-800-BUY-OMNI
Pacific Bell Wireless1-800-393-7267
Southwestern Bell Wireless1-800-347-5881
Sprint PCS1-800-818-0961

The world's largest service provider, Verizon, doesn't have a universal contact number, but if you go to their website they will refer you to their local affiliate in your area.

As far as the going rates for ‘blocks' of time, examples of the four most popular calling plans from the two most popular providers are provided below. Keep in mind, though, that this is a competitive industry, and there is a good chance that you can get a great deal. If you go to Letstalk.com, you'll get a side-by-side comparison of the major plans out there, including what the latest deals are. The lesson: always do research, or else you'll get snookered.

Sprint PCS (Free and Clear Plan; for all minutes long distance or local)
180 minutes for $29.99 a month
500 minutes for $49.99
700 minutes for $69.99
1000 minutes for $99.99
1500 minutes for $149.99
Wireless Web: 50 updates for $9.99 a month

AT&T (Digital Plan; local minutes only)
200 minutes for $29.99 a month
300 minutes for $39.99
500 minutes for $49.99
700 minutes for $69.99
1100 minutes for $99.99

AT&T (One Rate Plan; long distance and local)
600 minutes for $89.99 a month
1000 minutes for $119.99
1400 minutes for $149.99

Verizon Wireless (SingleRate Plan; long distance and local)
150 minutes for $35.00 a month
400 minutes for $55.00
600 minutes for $75.00
900 minutes for $100.00
1500 minutes for $150.00
2000 minutes for $200.00
Mobile Web: 100 updates for $6.95 a month

A footnote about the phone itself: most good plans will give you the phone for free if you sign up with them. Unless you need a high-tech phone with lasers and gizmos, just take the one they give you. It'll do the job just fine.

Now, don't sign anything yet. You're just calling for basic information right now, to confirm the cost of the basic block packages. Before you actually sign a contract, you'll have to decide any accessories that you may want.