A cellular phone company in Anytown, USA, has just the right wireless communication system for you. But which one? AT&T Wireless, Bellsouth Mobility, Powertel, Airtouch Cellular, Sprint PCS or Nextel?

When it comes to comparing the features, coverage areas, and rate plans of the various wireless carriers, it's best to start by carefully looking at your company's own communication patterns and what you want a wireless system to accomplish for you, advises Tim Ayers of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, Washington, D.C.

Where and how will you be using your phones? Who will you be calling most often: your colleagues or people in other businesses? How much do you have to spend upfront on equipment and monthly on calls? Does your business need cell phones only or additional features? By answering these questions, you can begin to narrow your choice of systems.

Productivity is paramount Naturally, you don't want to pay for a lot of fancy options that your business doesn't need and would rarely use. But, in general, the more features and functions your cell phone offers, the more efficient and productive your business can be. This advice is a crucial detail to note, considering the emphasis on efficiency and productivity in any major development project or retail establishment.

For example, if you have a mobile workforce -- as is often the case for professionals in the mall property management and leasing, development or retail indu stries -- and have been using separate phone, paging and two-way radio systems, you might want a cellular carrier that combines all three functions in one phone.

Some providers, including Nextel, offer cellular phones and plans that incorporate the two-way radio feature, which allows you to instantly contact the people you talk with most often, and at a fraction of the cost of a cellular call. A cellular phone with a two-way radio feature is particularly useful for people who work in project development or a sales environment, such as a mall, where a network of colleagues must be able to share updated information quickly and frequently.

All cellular systems operate on either analog or digital transmission technology, and it is important to choose the type of system that best meets your needs. Digital systems offer greater sound quality, privacy and security than do cellular analog systems. So, if you're especially concerned about someone cloning your phone or eavesdropping on your conversations, you'll probably want an all-digital wireless system. Some digital systems have faster and more efficient data transmission capabilities.

Which plan is best for me? Each of the local cellular carriers tries to differentiate its services from the competition by including certain standard features and by offering an array of options. The most common service features include voice mail, caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding and text messaging. Rate plans for cellular service, whether analog or digital, can be dizzyingly complex.

Most companies charge an extra fee when you make a call while "roaming" outside your local coverage area. The trend nationally is to reduce and standardize these fees, and most cellular companies offer rate plans that extend the area in which you can roam without incurring an extra charge. Depending on the wireless carrier you select, you can get free roaming across the state or even throughout the country.

Some wireless providers offer national rate plans that bundle digital cellular airtime, long-distance calling, and no roaming charges with enhanced services such as voice mail, text or numeric paging and call waiting. These plans offer simplicity and a monthly access rate that includes many of the features you may need. If you are a frequent traveler, then a nationwide plan could be best for you.

When it comes to charging for calls, many companies bill in one-minute increments. You can also find service plans that bill calls in 30-second, six-second, or one-second increments after the first minute of the call.

Obviously, the best cellular service for your business is the one that satisfies the largest number of your business communication needs and at the lowest cost, right? Not necessarily. The best cellular system is the one that delivers the greatest return on your investment. As with everything else in business, it's the value, not the cost, that matters most.