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Web Advice for Cellphone Buyers
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This is the online article from the Calgary Herald, Tuesday 14 October 2003.
A similar article was also published in the Edmonton Journal earlier in October.
Web advice for cellphone buyers
Site helps quell consumer confusion

Peter Wilson
CanWest News Service

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Confused? Adrift? Befuddled? Rudderless? Lost? On edge? Unsure that you can ever really make the right decision? Alone and helpless in a world you never made?

Don't worry, it's not a permanent case of existential angst. You're just thinking about getting a new cellphone.

Once you get that tiny perfect communications device in your pocket, that seemingly endless tilt-a-whirl of swirling techno-doubt will disappear.

You'll no longer wonder which service provider is best for you. Your worries about whether or not to take the $100-off deal on the phone that comes with a three-year contract are over.

And you won't fret about the differences between by-the-second billing and by-the-minute, or whether you're paying from the moment you hit the send button or only after someone answers the call.

At least until next time, when your contract runs out. Or your phone dies, or the battery goes, or the handset just seems too clunky for your image as bleeding-edge consumer.

CREDIT: Darren Stone, CanWest News Service

Steve Romaine runs a website that offers advice on cellphones. He is holding his personal five-year-old Nokia 6188. The phone in the foreground is the latest Treo 270 PDA/cellphone.

Victoria's Steve Romaine knows the feeling of confusion. He first got it in 1997 when he decided he needed a cellphone for his ocean-going field trips as a biological oceanographer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

But unlike a lot of us, Romaine didn't just wander into the nearest mall and head into the first cellphone outlet, pick out his handset and sign a contract, all in a matter of half an hour.

"I spent a couple of months doing the research," said Romaine. "After that, I found that everyone was asking me why I picked that particular brand and that particular phone.

"And I realized that people were searching for information that just wasn't there."

So he did something about the fact that while every cellphone company offers oodles of facts about its own offerings in brochures and advertisements and on the Net, it was difficult to make direct comparisons.

Romaine did even more research -- online, in print, and during visits to stores -- and then set about to share it on the Net, with regular updates.

The result is the information-packed Steve Romaine's GeckoBeach Cellular Phone Resource Site (www.geckobeach.com).

The site (Romaine chose the name GeckoBeach because it's easy to remember) offers everything from basic advice on choosing a phone and a monthly or prepaid cellular plan, to critiques -- of the likes of Telus, Rogers, Bell and Fido -- to detailed comparisons of what each company does and doesn't offer.

Also on site are reviews of cellphones, maps of cellphone tower locations and even an e-mail newsletter.

Romaine said he's always gathering new information.

"If I'm in stores, I gather information, I talk to the people. Online has good information too. It's the latest and it's up to date."

But not everything is on the cellphone company sites, said Romaine.

"Some of the things are a secret. For example, I got a fax at work a couple of days ago, a general fax from Rogers offering a special deal for government employees. It's actually not a bad price."

He also gets e-mails from readers of his sites and from people who work in phone stores, telling him about the latest deals.

The fall is when he gets the highest number of visits and when the phone companies are making the most changes, introducing deals for the Christmas season.

Most of his hits come from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, although the rates he quotes are those for B.C., at least for now.

On the site, Romaine is careful to maintain a neutral stance as to what's the best course of action for those considering getting a new phone or signing or renewing a contract.

"People quite often ask what you think about that phone for my needs, or should I renew, or whatever. I can't answer that question. You have to do your own assessment."

He does point out, though, that a contract is not something to enter into lightly, even if signing it provides you with some extra minutes, an additional service for free or reduces the price of a new phone to nothing.

As well, said Romaine, you have to take into account the fact that a contract ties you down.

"If you sign a two- or three-year contract and, say, in a year's time you decide to go to Europe, you have to get out of that contract.

"Telus, for example, says you have to pay a minimum of $20 for the remaining number of months on your contact. So, if you signed a deal where your contract fee is $25 a month, then you're paying most of it off."

Although Romaine outlines extensively what each cellphone provider offers on the site, he said that often the very best source for information is from friends who have phones with the provider you're considering, whether it's Rogers, Telus, Bell, Fido, or one of the other companies.

Even if a cellphone outlet handles more than one brand, warned Romaine, you can't always trust they'll be objective.

"They have their preferences as well, based on contracts they sign and may push a particular company and phone because they get a better commission out of it."

Romaine said he does not deal directly with the cellular service providers themselves when gathering his information.

"They're fully aware of the site and I've had dealings with a couple of them, but beyond that they don't want to touch it."

- - -


You should know

- In most cases, you cannot just buy a cellphone -- you need to buy the phone with some sort of service package from a service provider.

- Cellphone service packages come in two different forms: pre-paid and post-paid. Pre-paid is a more expensive service, but there is no monthly bill and it is offered more as a convenience service. Post-paid or monthly service has a monthly bill, but the rates and services are generally less expensive than pre-paid.

- Many providers like you to sign contracts or term-rate plans of one to three years in duration. You generally are tied to that contract period and are not allowed to cancel or downgrade.

- There are two different major technologies that cellphones use. GSM is a European standard that is found all over the world. CDMA is a North American standard that is found in North and South America, Asia, and Australia. Phones on one technology are incompatible with the other. (There are also iDEN, tdMA, AMPS, and other technologies available, but these are either more specialized or being phased out.)

- Most phones are locked to their service provider. This means that if you are unhappy with your service provider and want to switch to another service provider, then you will need to purchase a new phone.

This story features a factbox "Facts".


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