Finally: A cell phone you can throw away

In an increasingly disposable society it was only a matter of time: a throwaway cell phone.

Announced in 2001, Hop-on.com Inc.'s US$40 disposable cell phone arrived in a handful of Walgreens stores in California this week. The company hopes to roll out the recyclable phones nationwide by the holiday shopping season, as production ramps up and demand increases, says Peter Michaels, chief executive officer.

Designed to appeal to users who don't want to pay monthly service fees or deal with prepaid calling cards, each phone includes 60 minutes of talk time and can be used to make or receive calls, Michaels says.

Each phone is assigned its own toll-free number, which eliminates long-distance fees for people who call you, he says. Hop-on.com doesn't charge activation or roaming fees, and you can use the included minutes for both local and long-distance calls.

When you run out of time, you can reload the phone's minutes by calling in with a credit card. An additional 60 minutes costs $18, and the price drops if you buy more than 120 minutes at a time, he says.

The phone currently offers limited nationwide coverage that includes all major metropolitan areas, Michaels says. Existing wireless carriers provide the cell-phone service, and Hop-on.com expects to move up to complete national coverage in coming months. The company also hopes to offer international service down the road.

Sparse But Functional

The phone measures just 2.37 inches wide, 4.24 inches high, and 0.59 inches deep. It contains patent-pending disposable parts as well as high-quality components found in other standard cell phones. Hop-on.com drove down costs by omitting some hardware and features that infrequent cell-phone users won't miss, Michaels says.

"People just want to have the phone for a call. They don't want to have to learn how to use their phone by reading these giant manuals," he says.

Many providers are asking users to pay for services they really don't want, he says. "Wireless carriers are pushing games--but most adults just don't want that, and they don't want to pay for it."

Despite a limited feature list, the phone has at least one perk: hands-free use. It includes an earpiece/microphone that is required for the phone to operate. Each phone also includes a charger and rechargeable battery.

Recycling Urged

Hop-on.com received approval in July from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to offer the phone, which is based on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology. Qualcomm Inc. developed CDMA technology, and Hop-on.com's product is a digital, single-mode phone that operates in the 800-MHz band.

Tossing a used-up phone may sound like fun to some, but the responsible thing is to recycle it, Michaels says. Hop-on.com plans to collect old phones through a mail-in program as well as through recycling programs with phone sellers. Return a used phone and you'll get a $5 rebate toward the purchase of a new one.

Some people may bristle at the concept of a disposable phone, but Michaels says he doesn't really expect many of them to end up in the dump.

"They said that about cameras, but most disposable cameras get recycled five times before they end up in the dump--and even there they get ground up for other uses," he says.

Hop-on.com is doing its part to encourage people to reuse or recycle the phones, he says. "I do not know any other electronics maker who will buy back like us."

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