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Analog, Digital - What's the Difference?

Accolades about a 100% digital network scream from the TV. Print advertisements' black ink blare the magic of "digital" wireless services. More and more wireless services are touting the benefits of an all digital network. So what exactly is the big deal with digital and how does it compare to analog cellular technology? Here's a look at where digital-- and its predecessor cellular technology--came from and where's it going.

All of the national wireless service providers have converted their networks to digital technologies. The reason for the change from analog to digital is that digital presents many advantages over cellular. The main benefits of digital include better quality of service, more security for the customer, more overall system capacity, and the ability to support next-generation services.

Digital is known to up the efficiency in the network, meaning an operator can fit more information into each transmission; that's why so many are now converting their systems to digital. For a wireless operator, this means that they can get more bang for their buck, or more juice from their network. Operators using digital would also be able to supply their customers with the hottest new services.

Digital offers a better quality of sound. Proponents of digital claimed too that because digital scrambled up the signals into bursts, it was more secure than analog and can help thwart "cloning," an act of grabbing phone account information over the air in order to copy then resell that information for piracy purposes. By some industry estimates, close to $650 million in wireless services has been coveted by these big-eared crooks, which only adds onto the operator's bottom line a cost that is eventually passed on to the customer. Digital has stronger battery life than analog, and for the most part, better, more modern features on the phones.

However, digital has its detractors as well. Roaming may be more difficult using a digital based phone than an analog, some say. Since today there is no single accepted industry standard in digital technology and the technologies are incompatible, roaming--or using another wireless operator's network while traveling--may be difficult.

As you've probably noticed, price wars have already kicked off involving all wireless operators. In fact, in some areas, wireless operators are offering pricing plans that rival even landline services. The average monthly bill of a wireless customer has been slashed in half in the past decade, just shy of $40 from $95, according to the CTIA, and the cost per minute has dropped to an average of less than 20 cents from 60 cents 15 years ago. PCS operators may offer lower and lower prices because with more than five operators in some markets the competition in each market is steep. A digital phone itself, however, may cost more--be prepared to shell out close to $150 unless there's a promotion--or the upstart fees involved in digital service may be more than analog.

In the end, the customer must choose what will work best for his or her needs. But it's important to remember that the wireless company has just as big an incentive to keep you as you have in choosing them. With that in mind, it's still necessary to ascertain what future plans for wireless communication that customer has. If he or she will require data services, and if voice quality and security is of utmost importance, than it may be best to invest in a digital phone service plan. To cover all bases, inquire about dual-mode phones that talk digital but can offer service, via roaming, when out of digital territory--which may be pretty frequent. Most of those that have evaluated the two services say PCS services work especially well within a built-up metropolitan area and in pockets across the United States. Right now, cellular providers already have established nationwide coverage.

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