Choosing Your Service Provider

As we all well know, the price of a phone is only the beginning. The real cost to you will be related to how much your wireless carrier charges you for sharing your photos. Every major wireless carrier

now offers some sort of camera cell phone service. What service you choose shouldn't depend entirely upon how well or poorly it supports photo taking and transmission, but it is an important issue. Here are some things you should keep in mind when you're thinking about selecting a phone service for that new camphone you're considering buying:

■ Cost—You have probably been through the mill (as we have) with all the many different kinds of plans offered by cell phone service companies. Now add to that profusion of fine print the options related to photo sharing. Does your service offer free or reduced price photo transmission capability? How many free photos can you send each month? Is there a monthly data storage plan? How much does it cost per megabyte? Some plans bundle text messaging and photo messaging together; others sell them separately.

■ Transmission quality—In major cities, this isn't an issue, but in the mountains where we live, it's a paramount concern. Voice and data transmissions often break up but may eventually go through even if the signal is weak. However, photos usually bomb when the signal begins to break up. Choose your service based upon where and how many towers are near where you live and drive.

■ Transmission speed—Keep in mind that if your service doesn't offer a high-speed, broadband, or high-compression transmission capability (look for acronyms like G3, EDGE, GSM, and UTMS), it will probably cost you a little more money to send each photo, because the transmission times will be seconds longer.

■ Contract—For that free or nearly free camphone, do you have to sign a 1-year or 2-year service contract? Longer? Can you change plans during the contract, or are you stuck with whatever terms you agreed to when you got your phone? How much is the buyout? If you decide to change carriers, will they pay off the balance of your service contract to get your business?

■ Service—Unfortunately, we have found that the quality of service we have experienced from wireless service providers varies widely, depending on which store we walk into or whom we get on the phone. But most people, when spoken to nicely, have been helpful. You'll want them to not only set up your camera's phone number, but also the MMS (photo messaging), email account, Internet access, and other optional services.

■ Support—Does the wireless company support the camphone phone you want? There is a difference in the way various brands of camphones function, and one may fit your hand, photographic style and personality better than others. So, if you have your heart set on a particular Motorola, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, or other model, that may influence whether you'll sign up with a specific wireless service provider.

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