Cell phones have moved rapidly from being accessories to being necessities, especially in the remodeling business. While Nextel's walkie-talkie system is favored by many remodelers, there is no real consensus on which system or plan is the best. What works in a city might not work in a mountain area or even in a nearby suburb. Before choosing a cell phone package, consider what's most important to you — clear signal, fewer dropped calls, cost, customer service from provider.

Bob Lehner, owner of Lehner, Brunton and Associates in Warrenville, Ill., has five employees and eight Nextel phones. He spends $54.95 per month per phone. Each employee gets 1,000 minutes per month. Lehner's own phone has a Global Positioning System as well as an employee tracking system, for which he pays extra. “If I need to know where my employees are, I can log onto a Web site and see where they are and who's the closest to a destination,” he says. And he likes that he can key in an address and the phone verbally gives him directions.

For Mel Kelley, sales to production coordinator at Deimler & Sons Construction in Harrisburg, Pa., “being able to reach people when I need to reach them” is most important. He's gotten his vendors and suppliers to use Nextel and believes the system saves time. “If you can't get through, you're not holding or waiting. You can always get back to them,” he says. Cost was another concern, and Kelley spends $1,100 per month for 26 phones. Employees are allotted a certain number of minutes per month and are responsible for payment if they exceed that amount.

But Jerome Quinn of SawHorse, in Atlanta, switched to Verizon and a straight cell phone system when he felt the Nextel system wasn't working for his 25 employees. Because of the push-to-talk nature of the walkie-talkies, “we didn't know if a person was listening or a call was dropped. This took up time and caused confusion,” Quinn says. Now he pays a monthly fee but not for his in-network minutes. “The majority of my traffic is between employees. It's good savings” — $6,000 to $8,000 in a 12-month period.

Another cell phone proponent, Dan Stebnitz, owner of Stebnitz Builders in Delavan, Wis., dropped Nextel for U.S. Cellular because the system wouldn't work inside his company's metal building. His biggest criterion was reception. He also likes the customer service aspect. A company rep is located at a nearby grocery store, and Stebnitz can visit him with any problems.

Bottom line: Assess your needs, and ask yourself how much you're willing to spend to get there.