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The wireless telephone industry has seen phenomenal growth in recent years. According to industry figures, wireless telephone usage has stretched ten-fold over the last decade and includes approximately one of every three Americans. Whether used for business, to keep in touch with friends and family, or as a safety backup, wireless telephones have become an integral tool in many of our lives.

Growing Pains

The industry's explosive growth has also brought some growing pains. While Americans clearly love the technology, there is also a current of dissatisfaction with some of the industry's business aspects. State Attorneys General Consumer Protection Divisions have seen a significant number of consumer complaints in recent years. In Washington, wireless complaints in 2002 totaled 1,169 - making it one of the highest complaint categories. The reasons are varied but they boil down to consumers not getting what they thought they were buying.

Tools for Consumers

Washington's Attorney General's Office is actively working with the industry to improve customer satisfaction. In the meantime, we have developed this website to help provide you with the tools needed to make smart choices. Choosing the right wireless service can be very confusing. This site was developed with that in mind.

We hope you find this information useful as you make your way through the wireless telephone contract process. It is a work in progress and will be updated as new issues arise and new information is available. Please bookmark this page and check back often.

How Wireless Works

You already know that wireless phones allow you to stay in touch while you are on the go, but you many not be familiar with the technology that makes mobile communications possible. Understanding the basics of wireless service can make you a savvier consumer.

Downloads (PDF)

Wireless Brochure
FCC Wireless Information

Wireless telephones are essentially two-way radios. While coverage and call quality have improved enormously since the advent of wireless telephone service twenty years ago, wireless service will always be subject to certain limitations inherent in radio technology.

When you use your wireless telephone, it picks up your voice and converts the sound to radio waves, which are transmitted through the atmosphere to the nearest base station (cell site), similar to your AM transistor. In the process, radio waves are subjected to interference factors that do not affect landline calls, which are carried over wires or cables. These interference factors can include weather conditions, natural obstacles such as thick foliage or hilly terrain, or man-made obstacles like tunnels, parking garages or elevator shafts. In addition, due to the mobile nature of the service, there may be times when too many people are trying to use one cell site to complete a call (for example, during a sporting event). As a result, consumers will sometimes experience dropped calls, dead spots, and/or busy signals.

Wireless carriers continue to add additional cell sites deploy new technologies to increase call capacity. If you are considering the purchase of wireless service, you may wish to take advantage of the trial periods offered by wireless carriers. This will allow you to ensure the service works at an acceptable level at the places you will use it most.

Of course network coverage is just one factor in choosing a wireless carrier. Consumers also have a wide array of calling plans and features to choose among. These options may be very different from the offerings of your landline service provider.

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More Topics on Cellular Phones

Cellular Phones | Before You Buy | Local Number Portability | Where to Go for Help

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