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A used cell phone might be the perfect connection

Want to equip the whole family with cell phones without going into debt?

With a little digging, you can find great deals on used cell phones with voice mail, caller ID and call waiting, all without the things you don't want: monthly bills, credit checks, lengthy contracts, age restrictions, activation fees and complicated minutes plans.

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Cellular providers such as AT&T Wireless, Cingular and U.S. Cellular, as well as resellers such as TracFone, frequently run online specials on refurbished phones as a way to boost sales, particularly of prepaid calling plans.

Granted, your used mobile phone won't have all the up-to-the-nanosecond bells and whistles of the latest camera phones and gaming models. But for basic calling, voice mail and even text messaging, your used unit will be indistinguishable from the top of the line. Only you will know that you paid little or no money for it.

Case in point: TracFone offers a reconditioned Nokia 5125 cell phone and 100 prepaid anytime, anywhere minutes for $29.99 at its online store. Since that's the normal retail price of 100 TracFone minutes, you in effect get the Nokia handset for free.

"It's a value, especially if it's an emergency phone," says TracFone's Sherri Pfefer. "Take families traveling in the summer: You go to a big amusement park and everybody splits up. For $30, you can give the other group a phone and be in constant communication with them and not have to worry. There's no monthly bill, no contract, no worry. You can activate the phone to whatever state you're going to, as long as the technologies match."

Although your refurbished TracFone comes with a 30-day warranty instead of the usual one-year coverage, Pfefer says there's little risk involved.

"A majority of our refurbs are returns from customers back to the retailers that then get sent here," she says. "The majority of our phones have never been used; they were the wrong technology, they got them as a gift, things like that."

If you're not averse to signing on for a monthly plan, AT&T Wireless recently offered a refurbished Siemens C56 for $29.99 as part of its GoPhone plan. Cingular and U.S. Cellular also have made reconditioned cell phones available through their retail outlets.

Used-wireless world
Used cellular phones may be little more than a curiosity here in the United States, but there is an unquenchable market for our castoffs in developing countries where landline phones are prohibitively expensive, according to Chuck Newman, CEO of ReCellular Inc. of Dexter, Mich., the nation's oldest and largest cell phone refurbishing company.

"Price becomes a very attractive feature for anybody trying, often for the first time in their life, to have access to basic telephony," says Newman. "Certainly for the phones we are selling, this is more often than not their only phone."

ReCellular takes discarded handsets from charitable collection drives, retailer returns and trade-ins, refurbishes them, and sells them to buyers around the world. The discards they receive run the gamut from antique to tricked-out.

"The typical phone that we receive is maybe 18 months old. The newer ones, we tend to remanufacture and sell here in the U.S. and the older ones go overseas to be used for basic voice telephony," he says. "About 70 percent of our products end up overseas somewhere: South America, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, China, India."

This year, ReCellular will recycle over 4 million handsets and return $10 million to the charities that collect them.

"For us, change is good," Newman says. "The shorter the period of time that someone owns a phone before they change it, the better it is for us. Unlike conventional manufacturers, our sales are not limited by the number of units we can sell; it's the number of units we can buy. The market is pretty much insatiable relative to the number of phones that we can get our hands on."

That's because, until recently, most U.S. cellular phones operated on either TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) or CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology, while the rest of the world's cell phones were GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications).

-- Posted: July 12, 2004




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