Prepaid Cell Phones in USA

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Changes came in the plans of the then Federal Government in the year 2000, relating to the US cellular market. In September of the same year, the plan to auction spectrum used by the U.S. Department of Defense to the cellular operators, was postponed by three years. Before this, the FCC ruled that fixed wireless companies do not have to give up the allotted frequency spectrum in order to accommodate high-speed mobile services. In November same year, FCC reversed its ruling, stopping the limitations of the amount of frequency that operator can have.

To meet the competition brought into the cellular market, companies started to prepare to offer various contents in their respective services. Verizon Wireless offered services based on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and claimed that the users would be experiencing a considerable growth in speeds of 40kbits/second to 60kbit/second, on an average. Verizon is a joint venture between Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc.

Cingular Wireless started a strategic plan to introduce General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) by the year 2004, where the GPRS will offer data speeds up-to 177kbits/second. At the initial stages the users were able to use 40Kbits/second. EDGE offered a greater speed of up-to 470 kbit/second, although the consumers could only have a speed of 100 kilobits/second on average. Cingular has been formed out of a joint venture between BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc. As per the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), there were 139 commercial GSM/EDGE networks in 78 countries. This is out of a total of 192 EDGE deployments in 102 countries. As far as the country-wise break-up, there are 59 EDGE network in Europe, 45 in the Americas and Caribbean, 21 in Asia, and 14 in Africa and the Middle East.

AT&T Wireless would be deploying GPRS in 40% of its network in the year 2001. The company had planned to offer the service nationally by the end of 2002. AT&T would go on to deploy EDGE nationwide by the end of the year 2002, achieving this through software upgrades. The company would go on to start the implementation of Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) in the year 2003 and complete the deployment in the year 2004. At this time the company could only roll out the service in 80 percent of its markets.

More mobile operators in USA are as follows:

  • T-Mobile.
  • Sprint PCS.
  • Airadigm Communications.
  • Cellular One.
  • Cincinnati Bell.
  • Conestoga Wireless Company.
  • High Plains/Midwest LLC.
  • Iowa Wireless Services LP.
  • Message Express.
  • Panhandle Telecommunications System Inc.
  • PinPoint Wireless Inc.

Now let us, very briefly, understand the terminology used.

CDMA – Radio communication system involves two components, the frequency and the time. To put it simply, a certain generated code divides the entire frequency spectrum. These codes are generated to identify connections and therefore, the more connections are established, there are so many of these codes generated. Therefore, in effect, the individual code carries that part of the communication between the two, within whom the connection has been established. Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology does not assign specific frequency or its part to each user. Instead, the full spectrum of the frequency is allocated to the Individual conversations are encoded with a generated digital code for the connection established.

GPRS – General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is a data service that service providers offer to users of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). GSM is a digital communication system used in cellular services and was first introduced in Finland in the year 1991 and by the end of 1997 GSM service became the accepted standard in over 100 countries around the world and is now the de facto standard in Europe and Asia. GPRS enables internet connectivity and supports wide range of enterprise and consumer applications. Having a similar speed to a dial-up modem, GPRS features the convenience of connectivity from anywhere through the prepaid cell phone that you have. It supports feature-rich data services such as colour Internet browsing, e-mail on the move, and powerful visual communications such as video streaming, multimedia messages and location-based services.

EDGE – Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) technology provides up-to three times the data rate compared to GPRS and is capable of handling three times more subscriber, adding extra capacity to voice communications. EDGE features advanced mobile services, such as, downloading of video and music clips, full multimedia messaging, high-speed colour Internet access and e-mail on the move. Due to a very small incremental cost increase, practically all GSM operators are offering EDGE, in their new mid- to high-level GSM devices. With most of the operators, EDGE is a software upgrade.

WCDMA – Wide Band Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) is a spread-spectrum 3rd generation mobile air interface system which utilises CDMA, the general multiplexing access system. It increases data transmission rates in GSM systems and provides other simultaneous support for a wide range of services with different characteristics.

One of the content delivery pioneers, Mobileplay, offers it is free, advertising-supported service for wireless devices, including PDAs, smart-phones, BlackBerries and Java-enabled cell phones. Wireless users has the facility now to access news, games, lifestyle content and location-based services from a single portal specifically designed for their mobile devices. Mobileplay offers large portfolio of content to its users. With its fast content updates and seamless navigation, it offers a wide range of features, such as, article sharing, buddy lists and content caching for offline viewing, unique features not offered in traditional prepaid cell phones.

By simply downloading the free applications the users gets instant access to Mobileplay’s wide range of contents, like trivia games, the day’s news at USA TODAY, movie times from CinemaSource or satire from The Onion. BlackBerries, Treos, Windows Mobile Devices and more than 80 Java-enabled phones.

GSM in North America operates on the primary mobile communication bands – 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. When the service started the operations were exclusively on 1900 MHz, with 850 MHz being added in 2001. In Canada, the primary operational frequency is 1900MHz, which is used in the urban areas, with 850MHz as a back-up. At the same time 850MHz is being used in the rural parts of the country. The regulatory requirement in the United States, determine which area can use which frequency.

Parts of South and Central America use the 1900 MHz and 850 MHZ frequencies. Both of the countries, Ecuador and Panama, use GSM-850 exclusively. Some countries in the Americas use 900MHz and 1800MHz. This mixture of frequency usages often requires you, as a traveler, to confirm if your mobile handset is compatible with the frequency operated in the country of your visit. This becomes more apparent if you are traveling abroad, where it is very unlikely that the GSM handset that you have, will work at all. Under the circumstances, you might need to rent the required specified mobile prepaid phone or buy a quad band prepaid cell phone, if you should be a frequent traveler or rent a phone which is compatible to where-ever you are going.

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