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Are Cell Phone's Worth It?


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A few quick questions...


I'm seriously thinking about stopping my cell phone service and saving myself $50 a month. However it also just occured to me that when I start geocache hunting in the woods, it might be useful to have someway to get in contact with civilization (in case of minor gravity induced injury or somehow surviveing a recently well fed mountain lion.)


So with that in mind...


1.) From your experience, does a cell phone work in the forest very well? Or am I better off with 2 coffee cans and some string?


2.) Is there a more ideal method for contacting the outside world (ex. maybe a walkie talkie and the local ranger's frequency?)


Thanks in advance,

TXKnight <_<

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From our experience, the cell phone is definately a necessity. We've used it numerous times to phone-a-friend when we needed hints for caches. <_< We've also had to use it to phone-a-friend to get our little car un-stuck. It's also handy for ordering pizza when you're on your way back into town after a long day of caching. That way you can pick it up on your way home.


But to your questions...

1) does it work in the forest? Sometimes. We've been in several forest areas with great coverage and in urban areas with spotty coverage. Depends on how far away the tower is, if you're in a valley, etc


2) more ideal method? It depends what the rangers are using in the area. Try contacting them and ask what they recommend. Otherwise you could trade your cell phone for a satellite phone for about the same monthly cost (with a lot fewer minutes). Or you could find a rental for just the times you are in remote areas.

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We use it all the time for caching!


- Most often for the pick-up order on the way home, as said above.

- But I have also used it when I get really deep into the woods and let the sun get too far down and I don't like walking in silence in dark, so I have called up friends and relatives to talk to to pass the time quicker and alert critters to my presence.

- Haven't used it yet because of injury or getting lost, but I make sure to have it for that just in case.


I would definitely hold on to it, so you don't regret you didn't.

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Cell phones are about as good as it gets. Very dependant on terrian and tree cover though. Amatuer radio equipment is better in most areas - worse in others. Couldn't hurt to have one though. Worth mentioning that even a phone with canceled service can still dial 911 in an emergency (most parts of the US).

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If you want occasional use of cell phone capabilities with out the monthly cost, try prepaid plan... Something like TRACFONE or NET 10 Or T-Mobile... You buy phone and then just buy minutes as you need them....


As for coverage outside urban areas... Depends.... I have been in middle of forested are, looked over to my side and there above the trees is a antenna of a cell phone tower. Sure not every wilderness area will have access, but you don't know till you get out there...


Most prepay plans like TRACFONE use large networks like Cingular or Verison so coverage is usually pretty good...


I prefer the 1 year service plan, You get 1 year of service and 150 "units" (plus "bonus" minutes) for $89.99 a year, and you can add additional minutes any time you need them inside that year. I usually like convenience of having cell phone for when necessary to make call on highway to let somebody know I'm going to be late or in emergency, and prepay works fine for that... IF you are a daily high call volume user, it may not be practical.







Edited by Dale_Lynn
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I've become so dependant on my cell phone, to save money we pretty much stopped using our land line. We didn't go as far as disconnecting it, but are now on a bare bones, pay per call plan.


Anyway it all depends on your provider. I know that in many areas in the woods I don't get reception even though I have Verizon, which supposedly has the best coverage in this region. Still, I bring it along to be safe. If I don't have reception I have a whistle I can use.

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Have you considered a pay-as-you-go phone.  All of the major providers (Sprint, Cingular, Verizon, etc.) have these and the service is the same.  You pay a per minute charge, but the minutes don't expire and can be re-loaded fairly easily.


Just be sure to get one that has a good coverage map.

The minutes do expire on the pay-as-you-go phones, at least on some of them.


I have a Cingular "Go" phone, and it's $25 for 90 days. (I don't know how many minutes it is, but it's at least 10 times more than I would ever use.)


When it was AT&T, it was $100 for a full year, but Cingular took that option away; now $100 expires after 180 days. The $25/90-days option adds up to about the same as the $100/year; you just have to go through the annoyance of renewing four times instead of one. <_<


The reception is spotty at best in the woods, sometimes nonexistent.


Verizon has better coverage, but outrageous rates for pay-as-you-go, since there's a 99-cents-per-day access fee even even you don't use the phone for weeks at a time. (If you're going to have to pay $30/month plus per-minute fees, you might as well just get a regular phone.)

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I use a pre pay cell phone, I had on with the basic $50.00 per month fee but I was only making maybe 2 or 3 calls a month, that was a real waste of money. Now I use a Virgin Mobile pre paid phone. Minimum is 20.00 for three months and the per minute charge is 10 cents. This is more than I have ever needed.


I also carry a teo meter ham radio that has always worked for me when I have been in an area with no cell phone coverage. The taec lic does not require a morse code test and the lec will run about $12.00 for ten years.

Ham radio


Amatuer radio equipment is better in most areas - worse in others.

Not sure were a Ham radio would be worse than a cell phone, I have never had an experiance were my ham radio was worse than a cell phone.

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I haven't had a land line for almost 3 and a half going on 4 years, and I don't miss it at all... virtually no telemarketers, and after we figured that between our schedules we're hardly ever home it just made sense to eliminate the 40 bucks a month on a phone we never use. As for coverage, just go to the different websites and they'll bring up a basic map of the areas you're interested in. It seems like Verizon is just about everywhere, except really super remote deserts and wilderness areas. I'm sure that Sprint/Nextel will have enhanced coverage now that they've combined. (Although I will say I have a Nextel for work and in rural WI the service was pretty much non-existant... my personal Verizon phone was a little better overall, but it still had some areas there was no service.) Those are just the realities of cell phones. No one system, cell, ham, satellite whatever is 100% perfect, so I think it is a matter of finding what suits your needs the best. Personally to save the 50 bucks a month I ditched the land line and went with the phone that goes with me.

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A lot of good points I would've said as well. A cell phone with "no coverage" will usually still be able to get 911 (the phone will do some "extreme roaming"), as will a cell phone not set for a carrier.


Also note that when you call 911 newer cell phones are supposed to have GPS technology in them so the 911 operators can find you. Another good reason to have one.


Coverage really isn't that dependent on tree cover like a GPS is, it's more on where the towers are, who your carrier is and how good they "roam".


From my experience, Verizon and Sprint has the best coverage (and TracFone among the "prepays") and T-Mobile and Nextel the least (though Nextel will probably broaden with the Sprint merge. Cingular falls in between, not nearly as good as Verizon and Sprint, but a little better than T-Mobile and Nextel; however, both T-Mobile and Cingular are increasingly letting you roam on each other's network in areas where only one provides coverage (for some reason, T-Mobile does not provide service in the Carolinas at all, for example and phones there roam onto Cingular).

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2.) Is there a more ideal method for contacting the outside world (ex. maybe a walkie talkie and the local ranger's frequency?)

I wont call it ideal, but there is a thing called an ELT (Emergency Locater Transmitter [or something like that]) They cost a pretty penny ($500-$1000 one time cost) but they are like pulling the Search and Rescues alarm switch. They use GPS, and relay your location to the search team when your in trouble.


But a cellphone will do a lot more, and probably serve the same purpose, in most places. The ELT will work anywhere your GPS will, but if you aren't going into deep woods in Canada or Alaska, your cell phone will probably still be the way to go.

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I never had the need for a cell phone....I would bargain to say, the majority of people DON'T NEED them, they are just handy to have.....I find them extremely annoying in public.


More than anything, I have a hard time tolerating parents who rather talk on their cell phones than converse with the children in the car!!!!! Wow, what priorities.....oh yeah, I forgot, the kids are watching a DVD in the back seat.

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I wouldn't cache without my cell phone. For all of the previous reasons. Safety being the biggest reason.

I got stuck in a huge mud hole about 5 miles from my inlaws house. But it was a mile away from the nearest store and getting dark. If I hadn't had my cell phone it would have been one long and scary walk with two freaked out ten years olds and one very stressed out mother. But thanks to my cell phone my in laws were there and giving me hades within 15 minutes.


Yesterday I went looking for a virtual to log the coin quest game. It was pouring rain and I had to go down town to find it. I do not do well in city driving and it was worse with the rain. I was completely lost driving really slow looking down a road to my left to see if it was where I needed to turn. I was in a warehouse district. All of a sudden water starts splashing up around me. I had driven through a very flooded intersection. I never even saw the water til I was in it. Thank God I made it through and only started to bog down once. But right then I was glad I had my phone. If I'd gotten stuck at least I would have been able to call someone. I finally found the cache but had no idea how to get out of there. Just then a fellow geocacher called and he was able to give me directions back to the interstate.

I difinetly won't cache without my cell phone.

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I haven't had a landline in over 5 years. As soon as I got highspeed internet (cable) I got a cell phone and gave up the landline. Of course, I DON'T NEED a cell phone. I don't need a gps'r or a corkscrew either. But I tend to carry them around just for the heck of it. As it relates to caching, I mostly use it to talk to my wife while I'm out in the woods, but I've also used it to interview for jobs while I'm poking around under trees for tupperware.

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If you rarely use your cell phone, and are just carrying it around for "emergency", then you should switch to a prepaid plan that others have mentioned on this thread. I'm guessing that's why you started this thread, in which case, dump your $50 per month provider. :lol:


A PDA/cell phone (like the Treo, or the SideKick) is very useful for paperless caching, so that's another factor you should consider.

Edited by budd-rdc
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I have been using a cell phone for about 3 years now. Besides all the normal mundane uses you can find for a cell phone it dose have some uses geocaching. The biggest of these if you cannot find the cache, and you have the numbers of some other geocachers, you can call for a clue. While I have never made that call, I have been with a group that called, and I have been the person called. I have also been deep into the woods when my backpack started ringing causing all the cachers I was with to look at me.

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If you rarely use your cell phone, and are just carrying it around for "emergency", then you should switch to a prepaid plan that others have mentioned on this thread. I'm guessing that's why you started this thread, in which case, dump your $50 per month provider. :)


A PDA/cell phone (like the Treo, or the SideKick) is very useful for paperless caching, so that's another factor you should consider.

As previously noted: in most areas of the US, even a phone from an old deactivated account can make an emergency 911 call - free. If the phone is strictly for an emergency (a REAL emergency) - it is a great solution.

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Thanks everyone for the advice. Based on what I'm hearing, I think I might just go ahead and get one of those "pre-payed" minutes plans so I could use the phone for general purpose emergencies.


However I think I'm going to resist the temptation to order a pizza with it when I come home victorious from a find... Definately don't need the calories! ;)


Thanks again,

TXKnight :)

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If you want occasional use  of cell phone capabilities with out the monthly cost, try prepaid plan...


IF you are a daily high call volume user, it may not be practical.





I'd add Virgin Mobile to that list.


I have the cheapest Virgin Mobile prepay plan. It costs $15 quarterly (that $5 a month, or $60 a year) and any unused minutes roll over.


Like folks have said, this is only useful to people who rarely use their phones. I have mine for short notifications (I'll be late, etc.) and emergency calls.


I tried to use it waaaay out in the boonies once and it wouldn't connect long enough to place a call, but the guy with me had a full service phone that wouldn't connect at all. Every other time I've tried it, it worked. Well worth $5 a month.

Edited by Thot
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My experience. Yes. They work very well in Colorado if you have Verizon. Terrible-Mobile is the biggest joke I have ever seen. I have been in places on mountains with VW and been amazed that I have reception. The cell plan I found advertised was teh "Cool School" plan of 1000 mins. for $40.00 a month, I rarely use even 1/4 that but I have that insurance if I need it for the same price.


Would I pay $50.00 a month? Ever since I blew my guts out hiking, lower inguinal hernia, it's definitely worth the fifty for the phone & the five year search and rescue card ($12.00?). One call and you get to carry me out-I walked out last time and aint doing it again.


For further cellphone questions frequent www.howardforums.com <_<

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2.) Is there a more ideal method for contacting the outside world (ex. maybe a walkie talkie and the local ranger's frequency?)

Only in the movies, in real life using a radio on a frequency that you are not licensed to use is a violation of federal law. Beside which, with the trunked and the new digital trunked systems that are now used in most cases you would not be able to program one to work if you got your hands on one anyway.

Edited by JohnnyVegas
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I carry a prepaid (Mobile) - the phone + 60 minutes cost about $40, and I've recharged the minutes once in 6 months for another $25, so $65 for 6 months service. Obviously, I don't really use it much - but it's there for emergencies. Lousy coverage in most of the forest/swamp areas where I cache and hike, I guess I don't worry about that much. Have walkie talkies also - they work, but are heavy battery users. I've used it exactly once for help on a cache - and then I called the cache owner.

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Bottom line: cell phone coverage does not depend on the carrier (Verizon, Cingular, etc) - it depends on the phone. Different carriers use different technologies (i.e. TDMA, CDMA, GSM) in different areas. If you want to maximize your chances of reaching help in remote areas, you want a multi-band phone, because the phone will roam on various carriers (technologies and frequencies) to find the one with the best reception where you are at the moment.


So if you're just worried about emergencies, I’d recommend investing in a good multi-band phone and saving money on a cheap carrier (even if they have lousy service, you can still roam to another carrier with the right phone).


I carry a multi-band radio to backup my cell phone. I’m not licensed to use one of the bands (the other band does not require a license), but in a true emergency, I’d pay the fine for unlicensed operation rather than die in the woods!! :mad:

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Howardforums is indeed a great place to find tons of info, especially about prepaid providers and services.


In general: The north american cell phone network is messy. Where europe has a single standard (GSM) and everyone's phones can use everyone's towers, we have 4 major incompatible standards, and your phone is only physically capable of working with the same type of base station equipment. If you have an iDEN phone and you're only near CDMA towers, you're SOL. (I love TLAs!)


Many IS-95 CDMA and IS-136 TDMA phones can fall back to the AMPS analog standard. In some rural areas, AMPS is still operating, though carriers are ripping out the old equipment whenever it gets in the way. (It consumes a lot of power, and if you thought YOUR electric bill was getting high, look at a network of 600 cell sites!) Phones also take more power when they're in analog mode, so if you have to make an emergency call and you end up on AMPS, your battery's 3-hour talk time might become 20 minutes.


All phones sold in the US are required to place emergency (911) calls without authentication. This means the contract can be expired, the phone can be blacklisted, the handset can be locked, the SIM can be locked, or the SIM can be missing entirely. Even AMPS phones, which you can't put new activations on anymore, can make 911 calls in areas where they have service. Carrying any phone is a good idea for emergencies, as long as it's not sitting in the glovebox with a dead battery.


There's also no reason not to get your ham license. The test is cheaper than a GMRS license, and it's valid for longer. Carrying a five-watt mobile and a copy of the ARRL repeater directory will almost certainly put you in touch with someone. Drop in on your local amateur radio club, they'll be happy to explain the basics and get you ready for the test. You might even find a good deal on a basic radio from a club member who's upgrading. (Also, ask them about foxhunting. Geocachers will find this activity right up their alley!)


Someone also mentioned personal locator beacons. PLBs are intended for longer outings, and you should file a trip itinerary with SARSAT-NOAA for them to be useful. When triggered, a PLB activates its GPS receiver, gets a fix of your position, and transmits it to the SARSAT network. It then keys up on the EPIRB frequency so responders can home in on your signal using radio direction-finding equipment. Probably overkill for geocaching. (Just a bit.)


If you plan to spend a lot of time outside cellular coverage, a satellite phone makes sense. Inmarsat and Iridium would both apply to North American users. Various resellers offer rentals and some remarkably affordable plans, considering that they are satellite systems. I doubt many of us are really that far off the grid, but consider the sheer coolness factor of a satellite phone! Keep in mind that they need a clear sky view, just like your GPSr.


As for the note about cellular phones not working in emergencies: (getting farther and farther off-topic here!) The August 2003 power outage made the point very clear: A provider with a half-dozen generator trailers, and 300 sites, can't possibly keep them all running in a widespread grid failure. Each site's battery bank is good for 3-8 hours, depending. I'm in Michigan and I don't know about other parts of the country, but after that incident, Verizon installed autostart generators at every site they could. (A few percent, due to rooftop placement or other concerns, remain generatorless.) Ditto with Alltel. The fuel tanks are usually sized to run the site for 3 or 4 days. As far as I know, no other carriers have permanent generators at more than a few percent of their sites.


That being said, if there's a big enough emergency that the cellular network is overloaded or offline, your landline isn't likely to get anything more than a busy signal if you call 911 anyway. Your best bet in any such situation is to be prepared to handle your own family's needs for several days. Luck favors the prepared!


In summation: Any phone with a charged battery is better than nothing. Two phones that work on different networks (one tri-band GSM, one CDMA/AMPS, for instance) are even better than that. If you're talking about real emergencies (911 stuff), there's no need to buy service on any of them. Talk to your local ham club about repeaters in the areas you hike. There's no substitute for the buddy system, and even a pair of cheap FRS radios will help you keep in touch with your friends on the trail.

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Only in the movies, in real life using a radio on a frequency that you are not licensed to use is a violation of federal law.

At least in Amateur Radio, in the event of a true emergency, you may broadcast on any frequency in order to call for help. I would think this would carry over into other radio operations as well.


Momma Marauder


But the radio must be type accepeted to operate on the frequncies it is being used on.

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248, the reason that we have so many standards is that Europe unfortunately "locked" themselves into GSM by essentially forcing 1 standard on the population.


While forcing GSM does mean much better cell phone coverage in European rural areas compared to American ones, CDMA became a superior standard in terms of signal range, wireless Web browsing, etc. But because Europe is "stuck" with GSM (it would be difficult and expensive to provide new towers, phones, etc.) they cannot provide it for those who want the better wireless Web, etc. Most Asian countries have actually done the reverse and "forced" CDMA as the single standard since they didn't lock into GSM but also don't like having four systems like we do here in America.


I am not saying this as a fan of CDMA, in fact I use T-Mobile, which because of the many non-GSM standards in the U.S. is probably the carrier with the least coverage (except for the pre-merger Nextel iDen network). One shame about CDMA is that you cannot just transfer a SIM chip with all your settings to another phone like you can with GSM (which is why I like it).

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I don't own a cell phone and don't plan on getting one. I hike (usually alone) in Colorado about 100 days out of the year. A friend with a phone has hiked with me a few times just outside of Denver and further up in the mountains and there has either been no coverage at all or occasionally the phone was beeping in and out during the hikes.


The two times I've had car problems I was on Interstate highways and guess what? The people who stopped to help me couldn't get a signal.


Just don't depend 100% on one. If I decide to get something, it'll probably be a satellite phone or PLB.

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My cellphone doubles as a mood ring!




No, I have no idea. I took a call on the trail, it was fine. It rang a half hour later, and this. Shattered internally, looks like. It was a degree or two below freezing that day, is all I can think. I certainly didn't fall down or bump into anything.


My first thought when I saw the screen was, "aww...how nice! The phone company's beamed an Autumn-themed image to my cell!" It is rather pretty. And the phone works fine, if you don't mind working blind.

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I turned off my landline phone. All my wife & I & kids & the rest of her side of the family use is cell phones. Why pay for both.


As a silly side note;

So I've read anyway, Americans are the only country that calls cell phones, "Cell Phones", the rest of the world calls them "Moblie Phones" or "Mobiles". Not that we americans care.... right? :huh:B)

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