Whether you use it to keep in contact with your friends from back home or check in on people in this area, these “electronic leashes” are becoming more and more popular.

We took three of the leading cell companies students use on campus – Verizon Wireless, Sprint PCS and Cingular – and tested their comparative reception on campus.

The results were pretty clear, Sprint and Cingular rated fairly well, both indoors and out, across the River Campus. Verizon on the other hand wavered with decent reception out of doors, and barely usable indoors. However, reception itself isn’t the only factor in choosing a cellular carrier. For most college students cost is also an issue, and each of these companies has different rate plans for different types of users.

Cingular’s plans are divided up into three main types – local plans, national plans and preferred national plans. The differences between the three are simple. The national plans offer less free minutes per month, but have no long distance or roaming rates whatsoever. The “Preferred Nation” plan has no roaming on any part of the Cingular network, but charges roaming when your call is routed through other carriers. “Local” plan users are charged roaming fees for any calls outside your home area.

Cingular’s “Local” plan ranges from 50 minutes a month for $20 to 3,750 anytime minutes and 5,000 night and weekend minutes for $250. The “Preferred Nation” plans range from $30 to $200, and you get anywhere from 250 to 3,000 anytime minutes. All of those plans come with 5,000 minutes for nights and weekends.

The “Nation” plans include no free minutes for nights and weekends, and range in cost from $30 to $200, with anywhere from 150 to 2,000 anytime minutes.

Sprint PCS’s plans all include free national long distance, and if you get any of the packages larger than 300 monthly anytime minutes, you also get unlimited nights and weekends. There are two types of plans, Free and Clear and Free and Clear with Vision – the latter letting you play games, send text messages, wireless Web and other fun features. The Vision plans are generally $10 more expensive, and the plans come as cheap as $35 for 300 anytime minutes and 1,000 night and weekend minutes. After that, you can get up to 2,000 anytime minutes for up to $100 dollars with free nights and weekends included.

Verizon also offers both local and national plans, with large amounts of customization available for your needs. Generally, they cost somewhere between $35 and $300, and they give you from 150 to 1,500 minutes.

Comparing each company’s most basic plan, Cingular comes in last, with a mere 2.5 minutes per dollar while verizon offers 10 minutes to the dollar. Sprint PCS, the only one whose minimalist plan offers nights and weekend minutes, beats Cingular hands down, with almost seven anytime minutes to your dollar, but also includes 1,000 night and weekend minutes, which could conceivably give you 37 minutes of talk time to the dollar.

For this campus, both in terms of cost and coverage, Sprint PCS seems to be the most solid bet, but everyone has to find the plan and company that suits them best.

Additional reporting by Kerri Linden.Powell can be reached at lpowell@campustimes.org.

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