D oes your cellular technology interface with your voice mail? Is your wireless phone CDMA compatible? (Psssst...do you even know what this means!?)

If you're like most of us, you don't know your headset from your analog technology. And while we don't need to know many cellular terms, the introduction of new service options leaves many of us scratching our heads. If you're in the market for a wireless phone or service provider, or are simply interested in learning more, pour yourself a cup of coffee and kick back with this glossary of cellular terms. You may not leave enlightened, but you'll know a lot more than when you started!

     Here's the buzz
     on cell phones

Access fee:
An access fee is one that local telephone companies charge that allows you to connect to their networks from your cellular phone.

Airtime is how long you spend actually talking on your phone, regardless of whether you place the call or other parties call you. You might pay for airtime even when you get a busy signal or the number you're calling rings but no one picks up, depending on your cellular contract.

Most cell phones use analog technology, which carries your call along low-energy FM radio waves to transmit your call to the nearest radio antenna. Analog networks exist over the entire United States, and although less crisp than digital technology, analog calls can be placed anywhere in the country. It currently is the most popular form of cellular service.

Battery life:
The length of time your battery stays charged while your phone is turned on. See "standby time" and "talk time."

Some service providers offer blocking, which means if you dial out and don't want your number displayed on caller ID systems, you can block your number to maintain your privacy. This service usually is free.

Call forwarding:
If you are expecting a call or calls but won't be near your phone, your service provider can forward calls from your cell phone to a predetermined number for a service fee.

Caller ID:
This service is available only with digital phones, but lets you see who is calling before you choose to answer your phone.

Call indicator:
A light on your phone that indicates that someone tried to call.

Call waiting:
Call waiting works just as it does on conventional phones. If you are on a call and someone tries to call in, you will hear a beep or series of beeps to let you know someone is trying to get through. You then have the option of putting the first person on hold while you take the second call. There is a fee for this service.

Car kits:
Car kits are kits, sold by cell phone manufacturers, that include hands-free equipment such as headsets, microphones, and other cables to help you drive more safely while you talk or use other modes of communication, such as e-mail or fax.

Cellular service:
Geographic areas are divided into "cells"; as you move from cell to cell, your call is handed off to the next cell by sophisticated MTSO equipment (see below). This happens so quickly and discreetly that cell phone users rarely know when their call is being handed off.

CDMA stands for code division multiple access. CDMA is a digital wireless technology that allows for greater security, less background noise, and softer handoffs.

Conference calling:
Most major service providers can accommodate up to three parties on the same call. Watch out, though. In most cases, airtime charges apply to each party on the call.

Coverage area:
A coverage area is the geographic area where your service provider can provide analog or digital service. This service is available at fixed rates. Once you leave your coverage area you are "roaming," and all calls are subject to additional costs.

Digital service:
Digital service is on the rise in the United States. Digital transmissions are more efficient than analog transmissions and provide better sound and privacy while allowing for more options. The downside of digital is that it's a relatively new technology, and whereas analog service is established throughout the country, there are large areas where digital service is not established. Many customers who want the quality of digital but the reliability of analog are buying dual-mode phones, which switch back and forth between digital and analog technology.

Dual mode phones:
These phones are popular currently because they switch back and forth between digital and analog, depending on what kind of service is available in your calling area.

To encrypt is to scramble a signal so it can't be read or heard by an unintended party.

This well-known term stands for electronic mail, and now can be used with digital cellular phones.

The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for regulating telecommunications. It was established in 1934 to create policies governing interstate and international communications by television, radio, wire, satellite, and cable.

The Global Positioning System is a U.S. Defense Department system that allows us to navigate, even from our cars. It is increasingly a feature in luxury and many rental automobiles.

Hands-free phones allow you to talk without holding the phone. This is popular with many mobile phones and is coming back into vogue as a safety feature, as it allows you to keep both hands on the wheel when you drive.

Mobile phone:
A mobile phone refers to a phone secured in your car. Mobile phones have better range than portable phones and have antennae that attach to the rear windshield.

MTSO stands for the Mobile Telephone Switching Office. The MTSO is where the entire cellular process takes place, from the tracking of cellular-equipped vehicles, arranging handoffs, keeping track of airtime, and so on. The MTSO uses sophisticated computer systems to track cellular systems.

Cellular paging is just like regular paging. With cellular paging, available on digital phones, you can send and receive alphanumeric messages.

Peak/Off peak:
Peak and off peak time refers to the time of day you use your cellular phone. Most plans list peak time as business hours (as do conventional telephone companies) and charge more during those hours. Check with your service company to compare peak and off peak rates.

Portable phone:
A portable phone is a small, hand-held phone you can carry in your purse or briefcase, or, with smaller models, in your shirt pocket. They have the least amount of battery life among mobile, portable, and transportable phones.

Prepaid cellular:
Some wireless companies offer prepaid plans that allow you to buy airtime in advance. This is especially good for those who want to stick to a budget, like students, or who have credit issues that might prevent them from getting regular service.

When you leave your service provider's coverage area, you are roaming. Extra fees apply.

Service plan:
A payment plan you agree to with your service provider that dictates the amount of airtime you have at a given price.

Speed dial:
Also known as memory dial, speed dial allows you to program frequently called numbers into your phone so you can access those numbers by pressing just one or two buttons in sequence.

Standby time:
Standby time is how long your battery will stay charged if you leave your phone turned on (allowing calls to come in), as opposed to how long it will stay charged when you are talking. Standby time uses less battery power than talk time.

Talk time:
Talk time is how long your battery stays charged while you talk on your phone.

Voice-activated dialing:
This new feature is only available on digital phones; it allows you to dial by calling out numbers aloud instead of pressing them on your keypad. This is a safer option than dialing while driving.

Voice mail:
Voice mail allows callers to leave a message if you can't or choose not to answer your phone. Most cell phone service plans now offer this feature.

Wireless data communication:
Many cellular phones now allow you to send and receive e-mails, browse the Internet, and complete other office tasks, wirelessly. Pretty amazing, if we do say so ourselves!

© 2000 Credit Union National Association Inc.