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Plan Benefits

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The following features, when included for free in your rate plan, can significantly reduce the number of anytime minutes you'll need each month. Consider them in conjunction with your own calling patterns to determine how advantageous each one would be for you. Where not included in the rate plan, airtime otherwise associated with these benefits will count against your anytime minutes.

Nights and Weekends

Carriers build their wireless networks to accommodate the busiest times of the week, which tend to be Monday through Friday, particularly during morning and late afternoon commuting times. This leaves lots of excess capacity, which the carriers basically give away for free as a plan benefit.

Originally an add-on option, competition has made night and weekend time free in most rate plans sold today. Some carriers now offer an option to start free nights at 7:00 pm; Sprint and Nextel even offer a 6:00 pm option. The ability to advance the start of free nights to an earlier hour often incurs an additional monthly charge, but some plans include it for free.

To review various carriers' current off-peak times, click here.

Mobile to Mobile

Once limited to certain family plans, many rate plans now offer free mobile-to-mobile calling between customers of the same carrier. As with free night and weekend airtime, the real benefit of free mobile-to-mobile calling is that it can reduce the number of anytime minutes you need each month, potentially allowing you to select a lower-priced rate plan. However, the benefit of free mobile-to-mobile is limited to a single carrier, so it requires the consumer to be more proactive in figuring out which carrier is used by those he or she calls the most.

Incoming Calls

For those who receive a lot of incoming calls, Sprint and Nextel now have a series of “free incoming” plans, whereby all inbound airtime is free. These plans often include fewer minutes than similarly priced plans that lack the feature, making them a less attractive choice for most people.

Mobile Party Pays

In most countries, billing for wireless calls is similar to that for landline calls in the U.S. — "calling party pays." In other words, the person making the call is charged for it. However, the cell phone system in the U.S. evolved as "mobile party pays," with the mobile customer paying for both outgoing and incoming calls. One probable reason: Until fairly recently, wireless calls were much more expensive than home phone calls. Therefore, this billing convention minimized confusion for landline customers accustomed to consistency in the size of their bills.

Personal Calling Circles

Some carriers are offering the “calling circle” feature. The basic idea is that you can designate a group of phone numbers (usually five or ten) and get unlimited calling to and from those numbers, without using your anytime minutes. It is like mobile-to-mobile, except you are not limited to wireless lines, nor are you limited to subscribers of the offering carrier.

This sounds like a good idea, but when you pull back the curtain there isn't much benefit. Usually, there is a monthly fee for the service or only certain (more expensive) rate plans apply. In most cases, this will offset the benefit associated with this feature.