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Airtime ranges from 35 cents per minute during peak times (Mon-Fri, 7:00 a.m - 9:00 p.m.) to 15 cents off-peak (anytime else). Boost doesn't charge for domestic long distance or roaming.
Cingular PrePaid < http://www.cingular.com >
Opt for either a Nokia 3395 or an Ericsson R300z, both for $99.99. You also get $30 in airtime credit, which is charged at 35 cents a minute during peak hours and 10 cents a minute off-peak. You also get a 10 minute mobile-to-mobile rate when calling another Cingular customer.
Long distance and roaming is included, but only within your home network. Calls to Canada and Mexico are an additional 15 cents per minute - unless you opt for Cingular's "My Circle" plan (available to Western states customers), which gives you a break on Mexico, Central America and other international calling destinations.
TracFone < http://www.tracfone.com >
This company has quietly been building itself into a leader in U.S. prepaid field. They offer a selection of three different Nokia digital phones, starting at $79.99 (and including 30 minutes of airtime).
As with AT&T, your per-minute cost will vary according to cost of your pre-paid voucher, ranging from 26 cents (when you purchase -- minute card for $79.99) to 60 cents for a $17.99 voucher (the lowest cost card). On top of that, lower cost cards have a shelf-life of 60 days.. which means that if you do not renew them within that time period, your phone number will be deactivated. While that would not happen to me or anyone *I* know (all talkers!), if you decide to go with TracFone as your carrier, you should look at two other card options:
The Plus3 card is good for 365 days and comes with 100 minutes. Every time you renew card you receive an additional 20 bonus minutes. For same price of $94.99, you can get TracFone's Annual card, which is also good for one year and gives you 150 anytime minutes.
TracFone also offers a $7.95 monthly autopay program which guarantees that your phone will never be deactivated.
Verizon FreeUp < http://www.verizonwireless.com/ >
Verizon's current package includes a Kyocera 2135 phone and $15 of airtime for $99.99. They also offer you 200 Bonus Weekend Minutes every time you "ReUp" for $50, and 50 bonus minutes when you renew for $30-$49.99.
Rates are 30 cents for weekend minutes, and 15 cents for Mobile to Mobile and nights and weekends, as long as you remain within their network. Domestic long distance is included. Off network (roaming) rates are 99 cents per minute. Cards expire in 30 to 120 days, depending upon amount of airtime purchased.
Virgin Mobile < http://www.virginmobileusa.com >
Richard Branson, who may be world's coolest entrepreneur, has put Virgin logo on everything from music to soft drinks to train service and airlines. For last couple of years he's been building a market for mobile telephone service with cachet - and has now brought his act to U.S.
Virgin is offering two prepaid packages with names like "Party Animal" and "Supermodel." The only difference between them are models of Kyocera phone. They also include $10 in airtime and access to "Virgin Xtras" -- through a partnership with VH1 and MTV, you can get music news, check show listings and vote for favorite songs and videos right over your phone. (This kind of cross-promotion makes sense for a corporation that still earns quite a bit of revenue from music industry, and should have wide appeal to teenagers and young adults).
Virgin Mobile is on Sprint's nationwide network, so coverage is pretty good in areas where service is offered. Rates are good too, and refreshingly simple: 25 cents a minute for first 10 minutes, after which it drops to just 10 cents. This rate holds throughout U.S. and applies whether you've paid for a $10 voucher or a $50 voucher - it's all same. This is one to watch.
There may be other companies currently offering prepaid service and it is certain that others will enter market after publication of this article.
The thing to remember with prepaid plans is that if you do choose to go this route, your airtime will cost you more per minute than if you go with a standard contract plan. It is possible that rates could come down as field becomes more competitive -- but right now, if your credit is good and you can afford a 12 to 24 month commitment, a standard plan will be best one for your budget.
In part 3, we'll look at some of new phones on market and which features may make most sense for you.
Donna Schwartz Mills writes about the specific needs of work at home parents at her website, The ParentPreneur Club, "For Parents Who Want Choices, Not Office Politics." Tools, tips and advice you need to help grow your home based business while raising a family. < http://www.parentpreneurclub.com >