Pay-as-you-go cell phones aren't just for criminals
Given the fact that Hawaii consistently ranks at or near the top of states with respect to per-capita use of cell phones, most local folks are familiar with the manner in which service is typically obtained.
Sign up for a long-term contract of at least a year, provide a credit card or submit to a credit check, and pay a minimum monthly fee of at least $25 to $40. This gets you 250-400 minutes per month, and you can call to and from pretty much anywhere in the U.S and Canada.
If you go over your allotment, you incur charges for each additional minute. If you don't use all of your monthly allotted minutes, you lose them. Typically, lower-end phones are offered for free with such plans.
Hawaii-based Mobi PCS offers a twist in that long-term commitments aren't required, there is no monthly allotment of minutes, and no credit check is required. Instead, payment is required in advance for the next month's service.
The biggest drawback to Mobi is that such services are limited to Hawaii only. Relatively pricey roaming charges apply whenever you use your phone on the mainland.
Another popular option is what is known as a "pay as you go" plan. Basically, you buy minutes, either online or in the form of a phone card. Cards are available at a wide variety of retail locations. Typically, the minutes are good for only a limited period of time, but usually at least 90 days. Phones can also be found online or at these retail locations and are cheap -- often they are refurbished used phones.
As you use your minutes, your available balance is reduced. If the balance reaches zero before the expiration date, you will need to buy more time. If you reach the expiration date before you use your minutes, you will need to extend. Typically, an extension involves adding more minutes as well, but the minutes you previously bought are still good.
The advantages of such a plan are clear: no contracts, no credit requirements, and your minutes don't expire. Coverage is similar to that of standard cell-phone plans, with no roaming charges.
Some people think that users of pay-as-you-go plans lack credit cards or don't use their phones enough to warrant the cost of a standard cell-phone plan. Furthermore, because such plans can be had on a purely cash basis, they are popular with folks who wish to remain anonymous. In fact, purveyors of such plans often emphasize the anonymity feature, which doesn't sit well with law enforcement. But businesses and organizations who need to supply phones to their staff might consider such plans as a way to control costs.
John Agsalud is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy. Call him at 944-8742 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.