New feature makes possible hands-free car phones Bell Atlantic introduces service in area today

March 15, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

You've seen them. You've probably swerved to avoid them. They're the folks pushing buttons on their cellular phones as they merge into heavy traffic on the Beltway.

Today, Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile will begin offering Baltimore customers a solution that could keep more drivers' hands on their steering wheels and off their phones. It's a service called TalkDial, available for $3.99 a month with unlimited calling.

The innovative voice recognition program will either dial a number that the user dictates into the phone or call a preprogrammed number using an instruction, such as "Call Mom."

The service requires no new phone equipment. The voice recognition capability resides in the software that operates the cellular network and works with customers' current phones.

"In other markets where we've launched the product, it's been greatly received. The appeal has been very broad," said Adrienne Lenskold, Bell Atlantic Nynex's marketing director.

A rolling demonstration by a Bell Atlantic Nynex representative in a company van showed that the service in effect gets your telephone talking back to you, conducting a sort of dialog as it sets up a directory of frequently called numbers or leads you through a tutorial.

And, yes, the voice-dialed calls went through except for once when the van was going over railroad tracks. The phone asked the caller to repeat the number.

TalkDial makes Bell Atlantic Nynex the first cellular company in -- the region to offer voice-activated dialing. But competitors say they're underwhelmed.

Steve Sitton, president of Cellular One Washington/Baltimore, noted that TalkDial is not totally hands-free, because you do have to hit the "star" and "send" keys to activate the service. He noted that cellular carriers already offer a speed-dialing capability that lets people call frequently used numbers by pushing two buttons.

"Most customers would like to have the novelty of the feature but don't want to pay a monthly extra charge for it," Mr. Sitton said, adding that he's inclined to wait for a fully hands-free system.

Anne Schelle, a spokeswoman for American Personal Communications, said her company could add the feature to its Sprint Spectrum service at any time but hasn't because of a lack of customer interest.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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