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Technopeasant Review: Tools for Selecting a Cell Phone Company
Jeff Pasternack

Cingular, Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, VoiceStream, Nextel, WorldCom…and a hundred other companies are vying for your business. Daytime minutes. Weekend minutes. Nighttime Minutes. Anytime minutes. Whenever & Wherever minutes. It’s enough to drive you nuts, all this stuff about minutes. And don’t get me started on AOL, with its 1000 free hours nonsense. Flash forward 30 years when stem cell research enables us to stretch our lives through cellular modification and you’ll still be hearing pitches like this: “Sign up for any of our Lung Cleaning Service Plans and we’ll add a 1000 hours to your life free!” Pu-lease.

With all this clatter, its hard to decide which plan makes the most sense. I personally use Sprint and have been dissatisfied with my service for three years. Why don’t I change, you ask me? Simple. I don’t know anyone who is satisfied. My phone dies out at specific exits on the highway. When I went to my Sprint dealer, the Gen-Xer said that I needed to upgrade the firmware inside the phone or simply buy a new, more feature rich phone and not worry about it. An associate of mine has a phone that works on one side of the parking lot but dies out on the other. Yet another has three phones, one for each side of the country because the first one didn’t work everywhere he needed to be and the other two combined offered a better rate than upgrading the service for the first. Dear readers, this is out of hand.

My Sprint plan ends in October. By the time you read this, I’ll have made a decision on what to do about my cell phone. Stay with Sprint for another year; keep my number and rest assured that I know where it fails? Or should I change to a new provider and venture out into the great unknown? Like any good technopeasant, I decided to venture out onto the Web and see what help I could find.

Note to self: do NOT do a search for “cell phone providers” on any search engine. Instead, I tried “cell phone rate comparison” on Google and after filtering out the junk, came across these five sites: , , , (they sell everything) and

All five sites provide their service to site users for free. Being veterans of the Internet bubble, you know full well that the concept of the advertising-supported site isn’t a viable business model. So how can they afford to do this? Simple. They each receive a referral fee or commission of some kind for the sale. If you think that you’d want to cancel the contract before it ends, think again. These firms charge anywhere from $150 up to $300 for early termination.

At, I was immediately prompted to put in my zip code and it came up with a single VoiceStream plan and nothing else. Sensing that I was missing something, I went back to the homepage and found a button that said “Help Me Find My Plan.” This popped up a new window with an easy to use selection menu that guided me through a series of easy to answer questions. I selected 250-1000 minutes, I was willing to pay $45-$75 and selected the only feature I use: voice mail. The result? 6 Cingular plans. Where was the comparison?

So I went back to the main page and found another button titled “Rate Comparison Wizard.” I entered in the amount I currently pay, the types of minutes I use, current vendor and zip code. This time I was rewarded with five plans: two Voice Stream, two MCI/WorldCom and one Nextel. The VoiceStream plans would save me $10 when compared to my current rate. But where were the plans from Cingular that they touted before?

Next I tried From a usability perspective, this site had a lot of options, like sample profiles of user types and the phones that best suit their needs. Translation: verbose sales pitch crafted by a marketing guru who thinks that because they give us all these minutes, we have time to spare. Really, though, if you weren’t sure what type of user you were, this could help…a little. Anyway, I digress.

There was a Quick Start area for my zip code. This brought me to a split screen and as I clicked through the choices, the right side of the screen eliminated various plans. This tool assumed that I wanted a new phone to go with the plan. What would happen if I found that Sprint was the right choice? Then I wouldn’t need a phone and this effort would be wasted. I really just wanted to compare plans. Back to the homepage and into the Shop For Cell Phone Plans area. I started with 67 plans from five firms. Interestingly enough, Cingular and VoiceStream, which were so prominent on, were not available.

As I clicked down the choices, the number of plans on the right shrank. Note to self: once you click National, your only choice is Sprint. And the killer phone application, voice mail, wasn’t a choice. But I happen to know that it is included in the Sprint plan, along with other features not in the selection list. Even at the Regional level, AT&T had one plan and Sprint had two. Result? No savings over my Sprint plan.

A bit frustrated, I went on to This site was very easy to navigate, as there was really only one option: fill out their three-question form. The next screen presented me with 73 plans from four companies. The great thing about this site was the ability to use the sorting features for arranging the plans in a variety of orders. Even though their drop down selection menu said Verizon Wireless was a choice, they had no plans from them. Keep in mind that within 3 miles of my house there’s two Verizon stores. Result? The same VoiceStream plan found on was here. I also discovered the Simplexity is powered by a service called SunDial. As it turns out, SunDial licenses its application to many vendors who simply put their label on it.

My frustration level rising, I went to To their credit, they offered more promotions and rebates than anyone else. To their detriment, the filtering mechanism required me to look at every plan and click the ones I wanted to compare. Only then did it line up the choices for side-by-side comparison. 10 minutes later with no clear choice in sight and my tolerance for poor site design wearing thin, I went to for a last try at finding a comprehensive tool that would allow me to search across all the plans offered in my area. I took one look at their layout and filters and I gave up. While I usually enjoy’s offerings and their technology reviews are top notch, their wireless comparison service isn’t up to snuff.

I have yet to investigate other price comparison Web sites like and and, quite frankly, I’m not going to. I learned that VoiceStream has a competitive product and if I can get a decent free phone with voicemail included, I may consider changing. I believe I know my way around the Web reasonably well: to be frank, I spend at least 6 hours a day, every day, online. I was only able to gather limited views of the data from disparate sources, but no comprehensive view. I spent more than two hours on this research, only to find out that I can save $120 this next year, rebates not included. Granted, that’s 4 tanks of gasoline and saving money is great, but it wasn’t the return that I hoped to find.

More disturbing than being faced with a choice of giving up my phone number and Sprint’s known service failings in exchange for a new number and unknown failings is the fact that, at the end of the day, I wasn’t able to harness the power of the Internet in a way that saved me much money. However, in the pre-Net days I would have spent a much longer time performing my research, so perhaps in the end, the technology at hand did provide me with selections I did not have before. As for the five sites on which I did my research, I have two recommendations: and These sites have nice filtering and help options, many products and offer a decent user experience.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at