Bell to introduce 'Personal Line'

ONLY A TELEPHONE CALL AWAY

January 14, 1993|By David Conn | David Conn,Bell Atlantic MobileStaff Writer

Bell Atlantic Mobile is scheduled to announce today the next major step toward a brave new world of universal accessibility: ,, telephone calls anywhere, everywhere, all the time.

The subsidiary of Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic Corp., officially launching an eight-month marketing trial in Pittsburgh, will begin offering customers a single phone number assigned to one pocket-sized cordless phone that automatically lets the world know where to find it.

The Personal Line phone, made by Motorola Corp., represents one more advance in a technology known as "personal communication networks" (PCN). The vision of PCN is to free telephone users from the tethers of telephone wires and numerous telephone numbers.

The Pittsburgh market trial involves about 580 students, staff and faculty at Carnegie Mellon University and other corporate and consumer users in the area. It won't be until about late 1994 that Baltimore residents will have access to the system, Bell Atlantic Mobile officials said, though some minor aspects might be available here by the end of the year.

"It's the first opportunity for people to use a personal number service in a metropolitan area in their personal working and day-to-day lives," said Benjamin L. Scott, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Bell Atlantic Mobile.

While other companies in the past few years have started to offer "one person-one number" services, the Personal Line is the first to combine that notion with a few key features, according to Bell Atlantic.

For example, the Personal Line uses one portable 7.5-ounce phone on both land-based (normal telephone lines) and wireless (cellular) systems, and it automatically finds and "registers" with the closest and least expensive system.

Along with the established custom-calling features -- including call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling and voice mail -- it also includes a digital readout on the phone that can display pre-programmed messages sent by callers who are otherwise unable to get through. It also offers "call management" features that give users the ability to tailor when, from whom and how many calls they want to receive during a given time.

When used at home, the phone operates like a cordless phone, using a small base station that connects to the user's telephone line.

Out of the house, the Personal Line phone disconnects once it exceeds the range of the home base station -- about 200 yards -- but then seeks out and registers with the local cellular phone system, and the user is charged for on-air time like any other cellular phone customer.

Finally, at the office, the phone once again would integrate with the user's regular office line using an office base station.

None of this comes cheap. The customers in Pittsburgh are paying a total of about $60 a month for equipment leasing, the basic Personal Line service and monthly cellular service. And that doesn't include cellular on-air time or the "call management" extras.

Aside from the price, "It sounds like it could be a really, really neat gadget," said Phillip "Beau" Birch, of Baltimore's Waldinger/Birch, an advertising and public relations firm. Mr. Birch was one of the testers who tried out a different type of cellular pocket phone tested here last year.

On the other hand, Mr. Birch said, he and his fiancee are getting tired of always being within reach of a telephone. "[When] we come home at night, we don't even want to answer it," he said.

"The tyranny of always being able to be reached? Nobody wants that," Mr. Scott, of Bell Atlantic Mobile, acknowledged. "But this doesn't give you less control, it gives you more control."

A PHONE NUMBER THAT FOLLOWS YOU

Bell Atlantic Mobile is testing its "Personal Line" service, which gives customers one phone number that can reach them wherever they go.

HOW IT WORKS:

The brains of the system are a computer to be installed at local phone companies and a telephone that automatically connects to the nearest available phone system -- whether a local phone line or a cellular network.

*

At a minimum, customers would receive a telephone and a base unit for their home or office. The base unit would be connected to a local phone line.

When a call is made to the Personal Line number, the local phone company can determine whether the caller is at home, the office or away. The call is either routed through the local phone line; or if traveling, the call is routed through a cellular phone system.

COST

The system will cost about $60 per month. That does not include per-minute costs of using a cellular phone network.

Equipment:

Handset, base unit, car adaptor ... $24.95 per month

Personal Line service fee ..... ... $10.00 per month

Cellular phone service* ....... ... $24.95 per month

TOTAL ..... ..... ....... ....... .... $59.90 per month

Also available:

2nd base unit ...... ..... $15.95 per month

Voice Mail ......... ..... $5.95 per month

Screen calls ....... ..... $5.95 per month

* based on Bell Atlantic Mobile's "casual use" plan, which also costs 39 cents per minute of use (19 cents per minute off peak).

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