Bell Atlantic pursuing wireless alliance Group would offer voice, data services

August 25, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Telephone industry executives say Bell Atlantic Corp. is trying to assemble a wireless consortium that could rival AT&T by bidding on radio licenses for a coming generation of wireless offerings called personal communications services.

The effort is being led by Mark Fowler, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who now is president of Bell Atlantic Personal Communications.

People familiar with the effort, who spoke on the condition they not be identified, said Mr. Fowler was in talks with BellSouth Corp. and was also hoping to woo a large number of smaller independent telephone companies. "It's a serious effort," said an executive of one Bell company that is not joining in.

Personal communication services covers a broad family of wireless voice and data services that are expected to rival cellular telephones. The FCC hopes to begin auctioning radio licenses for these services within a year and to adopt the final rules for those licenses next month.

BellSouth officials refused to comment about the new effort, but Mr. Fowler acknowledged in a recent interview that "we are putting something together," and hinted at a possible announcement the middle of next month.

"The concept is that in a world where rapid change is occurring, Bell Atlantic has to look for significant new opportunities outside its own territories," he said.

An alliance between Bell Atlantic, which owns the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland, and BellSouth could lead to a wireless competitor that covers two-thirds of the Eastern United States, a densely populated and affluent region.

BellSouth, based in Atlanta, covers a territory from North Carolinathrough Florida with 39.1 million potential customers. Bell Atlantic, with a territory running from New Jersey through Virginia, covers 34.7 million potential customers.

BellSouth is the largest shareholder of Ram Mobile Data, a nationwide network that provides wireless data communications to hand-held computers. Ram operates in hundreds of cities, mostly serving companies that want to send messages to and from their employees. BellSouth also owns Mobilcom, the third-largest paging company and one of two companies that provide nationwide paging.

The new alliance might not incorporate these related businesses, though both of the Bells have worked strenuously to integrate the montage of wireless networks into new services.

An alliance would not give the companies automatic licenses for their regions. Rather, they would have to submit bids under an auction system adopted by Congress this year.

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