Analog vs digital
There are many different types of cellular phones. The most common type
available to consumers is an analog service phone, which can be excellent
for occasional use. Analog telephones are quite inexpensive and are often
offered as a free incentive to sign up for service.
In the past several years, a new, improved options have emerged for cellular
users: digital service. Digital service is more advanced in terms of communication,
in that they offer better quality hardward, clearer transmissions and
give users far fewer busy signals.
"A small business owner just getting into cellular phones now should
almost certainly get digital service and not analog," said David
Thomson, marketing manager at Bell Atlantic Mobile. "That's because
that person will probably be using it quite a bit and not just for emergencies.
Digital cellular service has better security and safety."
Digital phones, however, are usually more expensive and are not usually
included with "free phone" deals. Bell Atlantic Mobile, for
example, charges about $129 for a digital cellular phone and whatever
service plan you choose is an additional cost.
Many nationwide wireless service providers have a digital network in
place or are at least in the process of trying to convert their cellular
network to a digital network. The reason is digital presents many advantages
over cellular, say proponents. The main benefits of digital include better
quality of service, more security for the customer, and the ability to
support next-generation services. Operators are looking to digital technology
to help enable the whiz-bang services of tomorrow, like wireless Internet
Digital is known to up the efficiency in the network, meaning an operator
can fit more information into each transmission; that's why so many are
now converting their systems to digital. For a wireless operator, this
means that they can get more bang for their buck, or more juice from their
network. Operators using digital would also be able to supply their customers
with the hottest new services that were being talked about at water coolers
everywhere. Some of these services include features that customers had
already gotten accustomed to on their landline, or regular, phone, like
wireless call waiting, as well as some messaging services.
Digital offers a better quality of sound. Proponents of digital claimed
too that because digital scrambled up the signals into bursts, it was
more secure than analog and can help thwart "cloning," an act
of grabbing phone account information over the air in order to copy then
resell that information for piracy purposes. By some industry estimates,
close to $650 million in wireless services has been coveted by these big-eared
crooks, which only adds onto the operator's bottom line a cost that is
eventually passed on to the customer. Digital has stronger battery life
than analog, and for the most part, better, more modern features on the
phones: Think cooler "gadget" phones weighing in at 3.5 oz.
that bring on visions of James Bond.
However, digital has its detractors as well. Roaming may be more difficult
using a digital based phone than an analog, some say. Since today there
is no single accepted industry standard in digital technology and the
technologies are incompatible, roaming--or using another wireless operator's
network while traveling--may be difficult. Analog has better coverage
than digital, and greater service availability. Plus, the initial cost
for analog is usually cheaper than for digital, defenders say.
As you've probably noticed, price wars have already kicked off involving
all wireless operators. In fact, in some areas, wireless operators are
offering pricing plans that rival even landline services. The average
monthly bill of a wireless customer has been slashed in half in the past
decade, just shy of $40 from $95, according to the CTIA, and the cost
per minute has dropped to an average of less than 20 cents from 60 cents
15 years ago. PCS operators may offer lower and lower prices because with
more than five operators in some markets the competition in each market
is steep. A digital phone itself, however, may cost more--be prepared
to shell out close to $150 unless there's a promotion--or the upstart
fees involved in digital service may be more than analog. Another area
to note is the length of the contract that must be signed upon service
activation; analog usually demands a longer term.
In the end, the customer must choose what will work best for his or her
needs. But it's important to remember that the wireless company has just
as big an incentive to keep you as you have in choosing them. With that
in mind, it's still necessary to ascertain what future plans for wireless
communication that customer has. If he or she will require data services,
and if voice quality and security is of utmost importance, than it may
be best to invest in a digital phone service plan. If roaming accommodations
is a top priority, than signing up with a cellular provider may be the
way to go. To cover all bases, inquire about dual-mode phones that talk
digital but can offer service, via roaming, when out of digital territory--which
may be pretty frequent. Most of those that have evaluated the two services
say PCS services work especially well within a built-up metropolitan area
and in pockets across the United States. Right now, cellular providers
already have established nationwide coverage. And while the PCS wireless
companies most likely have the sleekest phones from the most cutting edge
companies, they have a lot of building to do to catch up to the coast-to-coast
presence of cellular.
Multimode phones can operate on either an analog or digital transmission
network, allowing you to maintain a connection whether you're in a digital
service area or analog only service area. If you plan to use your phone
in rural areas where digital service may not be available, a multimode
phone is the most sensible choice.
A "dual-mode" phone can utilize either a digital signal or,
if necessary, an analog signal. This additional ability will keep you
connected in some remote regions that do not have digital cellular capability
a radio, your phone broadcasts your voice into the airwaves at around
800 MHz. Each call is sent on a single frequency or channel.
to how CD players process music, digital cellular networks turn your
voice into digital form before transmitting it. And just as CDs generally
sound cleaner and richer than LPs, calls made via digital cellular
tend to be clearer than analog calls. While digital cellular uses
the same frequency range as analog, around 800 MHz, it is able pack
multiple conversations into a single frequency instead of just one.
This means than digital cellular networks can handle many more calls
at a time.
processes calls similar to digital cellular, but operates at a higher
frequency range, around 1900 MHz. Government regulation of the airwaves
allows only one analog and one digital cellular carrier to operate
in any major metropolitan area, but up to six PCS providers per market.
The availability of more PCS carriers has spurred competition and
made PCS very popular with consumers.
to good. However, interference may cause static, fade or dropped calls.
to analog since digital networks are less prone to interference.
to digital cellular, but as the networks are generally newer than
either analog or digital, PCS may arguably provide better sound quality.
designed for voice communications only, analog networks offer no wireless
data services. Special calling features, such as voice mail or Caller
ID, may be available.
features such as voicemail, caller ID, and call waiting are regularly
available. As a result of digital networks? more efficient use
of the available frequency, there is also additional bandwidth to
provide special services such as Internet access and SMS (Short Messaging
System) which enables your phone to receive and, in some cases, send
numeric and text messages.
everything that digital cellular does.
the most comprehensive geographic coverage, over 90 percent of the
United States. All analog phones are compatible with nearly all analog
networks in North America.
is growing but limited compared to analog. Best in large metropolitan
areas, worst in rural areas. Coverage outside of your carrier?s
individual network is less assured as digital networks can use one
of several different technologies that are mutually incompatible.
(See our tech briefing on Digital Technologies.)
are aggressively building out PCS networks, but currently, PCS provides
the least amount of coverage. A PCS phone is often made to work with
only one service provider.
real security; anybody with the proper radio receiver can overhear
your phone conversation. Cloning, the act of scanning cellular frequencies
in order to steal account information, has cost the wireless industry
close to $650 million by some estimates.
without first obtaining the proper decoding technology, cloners cannot
access your account information and eavesdroppers cannot listen in
on your conversations.
to digital cellular. Because PCS phones are generally made to work
with only one service provider, this may provide an additional layer