Table: Who You Gonna Call?

Confused by mobile-phone plans? You're in good company. To sort through the maze, we took a hypothetical consumer who wants to spend about $40 a month on mobile-phone service and examined five plans. Prices are based on the New York market.

VOICE PLANS

AT&T WIRELESS
LOCAL PLAN* 10 cents a minute
NAT'L PLAN* 13 cents a minute**
EXTRAS With the local plan, you get unlimited free calling from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays and on weekends. Short messaging is available at 10 cents a message or less. Most wireless Net services are free, but to use them you need a clunker of a phone.
THE SKINNY You pay for quality with Ma Bell. Although its service isn't cheap, AT&T has the highest customer satisfaction of any mobile player, according to researcher J.D. Power.
CINGULAR
LOCAL PLAN* 10 cents a minute
NAT'L PLAN* 23 cents a minute
EXTRAS With the local plan, you get unlimited free calling from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. during the week and all weekend. It also offers short messaging and wireless Internet services.
THE SKINNY A solid midrange option, especially since Cingular throws in free long distance with its local plan. But quality is mediocre, according to J.D. Power.
SPRINT
LOCAL PLAN* 11 cents a minute
NAT'L PLAN* 11 cents a minute
EXTRAS With its current promotion, you get 3,650 minutes a month to use from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. during the week and all week end. Also offers wireless Net services and short messaging.
THE SKINNY Sprint's coverage has improved, but its rates are no longer that much lower than rivals. Go to Sprint if you want affordable, nationwide roaming and long distance included.
VERIZON WIRELESS
LOCAL PLAN* 9 cents to 10 cents a minute
NAT'L PLAN* 23 cents a minute
EXTRAS With the local plan, you get 3,000 minutes per month from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the week and all weekend. Also offers short messaging.
THE SKINNY Not for the bargain shopper. Verizon is expensive, but it ranked No. 2 in coverage and customer service, according to J.D. Power.
VOICESTREAM
LOCAL PLAN* 8 cents a minute
NAT'L PLAN* 8 cents a minute
EXTRAS You get 2,000 weekend minutes per month or unlimited weekend minutes if you sign up for a two-year plan. Its short messaging is one of the best, and it will be the first to introduce high-speed Net access.
THE SKINNY Rates are bargain basement, but look out for holes in coverage, including chunks of California, Virginia, and the Dakotas. You could end up paying 49 cents a minute—or simply go without coverage.

* Local plans are without long distance and roaming, and the cost is for daytime hours only during the week. National plans i0nclude long distance and roaming. ** AT&T's lowest cost national plan is $60/month.

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