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30 May 2007

A question about US cellphones [More:]I hope this doesn't sound like a stupid question, but ...

OK, in the UK, our cellphone system means that our cellphone numbers are in a different format to landlines. So a cellphone number will be something like 07943 xxxxxx, whereas a phone number will be something like 0207 475 xxxx.

Now, I've noticed that US cellphones appear to be in the same format as landlines, with the same state code (740 for Ohio, 212 for NY), followed by seven digits.

I have a UK cellphone that I can use in the States, although it is horrendously expensive to do so (all the call charges are loaded onto the recipient, i.e. me). So I plan on buying a cheap pay as you go Virgin phone on arrival in NY. Presumably the SIM card will give me a NY number, beginning 212 followed by seven digits.

My question is this: when I go to other parts of the US, will the phone work just fine there, and will I be charged 'long distance' rates for using it out of the 212 area or will the call charges be the same throughout the country, even if I am using it to dial, say, a 740 area code number?
I have a pay-as-you-go phone from Tracfone, and you pay for minutes in advance, with 200 costing less per minute than 100, etc. The per minute charge should apply the same whether you are calling locally or long distance (like New York to Ohio), but there used to be a 'roaming' charge, meaning if you physically took the phone outside its defined local area, it would cost you 2 'minutes' for each minute used. TracFone has recently dropped that, making it a better deal for wherever you go. I don't know about other pay-as-you-go services... just ask a person or search their documentation for "roaming". And the 'area codes' we use are not for an entire state; there are a bunch for different areas in California, and in New York City, there are multiple area codes covering the same area (they have so many phones), so you probably won't get a 212 number, but it will be New York local if you want it to be. Still, 'roaming' may apply if you use the phone in Albany, New York (the other end of the state) but maybe not in Newark, New Jersey (just across the river). Confused?
posted by wendell 30 May | 02:38
When I got a Virgin phone, I had to use it to call Virgin to register it. At that time, they asked me what area code I wanted and they programmed it while I was still on the phone with them. As wendell said, their fee structure is flat by-the-minute to anywhere within their network (which may still include Europe, I'm not sure) without regard for area code.

The service was great but the phone itself sucked.
posted by mischief 30 May | 05:24
I can't tell you how a pay-as-you-go plan works because I've only ever had a plan with unlimited long distance calling built into it. This came in handy when I first moved to New York because I kept my California-based number for a year so that it wouldn't cost my parents any more money to call me. Of course, after I got fired, I got a new phone and SIM card that worked on the East Coast, and asked for a 212 area code number so that I could go on job interviews and the like.

So the summation is this: look for a plan that includes long distance minutes and that should cover you just fine.
posted by TrishaLynn 30 May | 05:51
If you get Virgin Mobile, you should be able to use it nationwide. You will only face roaming charges if you leave their parent network (which, back when my SO had it, was Sprint PCS). Shouldn't be a problem near major cities; beyond that, you'll want to ask to see a coverage map.

Good luck getting a 212 number, though. I think the last time they gave those out was in 1997. Those who have them guard them fiercely!
posted by Eideteker 30 May | 06:08
Just an FYI on the "state" code - they are actually called "area codes" - I believe NY City has at least 5.
posted by blackkar 30 May | 06:55
Just an FYI on the "state" code - they are actually called "area codes" - I believe NY City has at least 5.
posted by blackkar 30 May | 07:47
Yeah, 212's almost impossible to get. All the cool kids have 917, the first cell-only exchange in NYC (the implication is you've been here for eight or more years, and self-centered New Yorkers judge street cred by when you moved here: converts are often zealots. I could tell you how poorly I think of that kind of thing, but then I'd have to disclose that I spent 30 minutes talking to a dozen different AT&T operators to social engineer myself the right 917 number with repeating digits. Hypocrisy, old friend, what would I do without you?).
posted by Hugh Janus 30 May | 08:37
I hear you, Hugh. When I first got out of college I wanted to be like the cool kids in West L.A., so I got a 310 number. Years later I happened to change numbers and took a number in the area code of the suburb where I grew up and where my family still lives.
posted by halonine 30 May | 09:47
It'll probably be my luck that, not caring one whit about cool and trendy phone numbers, I'll be allocated one that someone will kill (or hopefully pay mucho dineros) for.
posted by essexjan 30 May | 10:11
You'll get something cool like 917-917-9177 or 212-MUD-BUTT.
posted by Hugh Janus 30 May | 10:15
At one time, my phone number in L.A. was (area code redacted) PUNS-PEN. I LOVED IT.
posted by wendell 30 May | 15:55
I have a UK cellphone that I can use in the States, although it is horrendously expensive to do so (all the call charges are loaded onto the recipient, i.e. me).

That's the way it works in the U.S. The mobile user always pays (modulo inclusive minutes on a plan). As opposed to the rest of the world where the caller pays. The plus is that it doesn't cost anymore to call a mobile than a landline in the U.S. And it won't cost nearly as much as your roaming plan.
posted by grouse 30 May | 16:58
Yeah, 212's almost impossible to get.

I must be blowing that impossibility curve out of the water, because when I had to get a new phone and SIM card (ej, I don't know what they call them in the UK, but it's a little chip that you insert into your phone that actually holds all your phone number data on it) back in 2004, I asked them to check if they had a 212-code number available...and they did!

*tiny smirk*
posted by TrishaLynn 30 May | 21:59
My god, the US is so backward in simple things sometimes. It's all those constitutional rights thingies, I think. In Australia, any company who wants to provide mobile phone services is required to cover the whole country and phones are not "based" anywhere. The numbers are all 04xx xxx xxx where all landline numbers are xx xxxx xxxx (first two are the area code, of course). I can use my mobile phone in a whole stack of countries, but at considerable cost - if someone calls me when I am in Indonesia, they pay for the call to the mobile tower and I pay from the call from there to wherever I am. Apart from that, we don't pay for incoming calls or text messages.

So, it seems like the system is similar to that in the UK, which has nothing whatsoever to do with your question ;-)
posted by dg 30 May | 23:28
because i haven't contributed much lately || Send a buck to Ron Paul