Tracking down cellular phone customers -- in the office, at home and on the road -- is about to get easier.
A new service being tested in the Baltimore-Washington area by MCI Communications Corp. and Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems allows a phone customer with an MCI personal 800 number to receive toll-free 800 calls on his cellular phone. That same number also can be used to reach cellular customers at home or in the office.
The new service means that callers no longer will need to fuss with "roaming" codes to reach cellular customers who have driven out of the service area. And it means an end to having to memorize home, office and car phone numbers.
According to MCI, those two factors frustrate callers who try to call cellular customers to the point that only 15 percent of all
calls to cellular phones are inbound.
"With this new service, callers never have to know where you are. They just have to know your 800 number," said Gerald H. Taylor, president of MCI Consumer Markets.
The new cellular offering is MCI's first move into what it expects to be a growing role in cellular services, now dominated by large cellular companies such as McCaw Cellular Communications Inc. and the regional Bell companies.
For the time being, the new service makes MCI the only major long-distance company actively pursuing the cellular-services market.
American Telephone & Telegraph Co. sells equipment to cellular-service providers but doesn't provide services.
Sprint recently made a bid to merge with Centel, which has extensive cellular holdings. But that deal has not been completed.
MCI says that if its three-month trial is successful, it plans to make the new service available nationwide. The current technological trial, which began July 15 and was announced this week, involves 100 MCI employees who are also Bell Atlantic customers.
Mr. Taylor said MCI is developing products and services aimed jTC at the cellular market, part of the company's plan for becoming a full-service communications company.
"We intend to compete against all market segments," Mr. Taylor said.