What we list: We included calling plans available on a one-year contract for less than $70 a month ($90 a month on shared-use plans), including generally available promotions. Coverage maps are based on data the carriers gave us and may not show every gap. We tested AT&T Wireless's reception in addition to Cingular's, but opted not to list its rates separately: We cannot recommend signing up with AT&T Wireless at this point because it merged with Cingular last week and because Cingular offers comparable prices.
What the cost estimates mean: We calculated the cheapest way to cover five monthly calling patterns, assuming calls average a bit more than three minutes each and half occur during weekday billing periods. "Light use" is about 30 minutes of local calls. "Moderate use" covers roughly three hours of local calls. "Heavy use" is eight hours, including 48 minutes of calls made from elsewhere on the East Coast to local numbers in those other areas, and 24 minutes of long-distance use. "Land-line replacement" is 20 hours or so, including two hours of non-local calling (of which 30 minutes were outside the East Coast) and 160 minutes of long distance. "Chatty couple" is about six hours of use, shared between two phones. All estimates add Caller ID and voice-mail charges if applicable, exclude taxes and are based on December 2003 call-length data from the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (www.wow-com.com).