Service lets traditional lines carry cell calls Cellular One to allow clients the cheaper rate

September 10, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

In an early step toward allowing customers to use cellular and traditional phones with the same phone number, Cellular One yesterday announced a new plan that will let cellular phones function like a cordless phone at a customer's home or office.

Greenbelt-based Cellular One, one of the area's leading cellular carriers, said its FreedomPlus service will let customers use their cellular phone with a base station unit.

The service allows calls to the cell phone to be routed over the traditional local phone network, allowing cell phones to be used for all calls.

Completing cellular calls over traditional networks lets customers save the per-minute rates -- as high as 39 cents per minute -- that they pay to get local cellular calls.

"We've had a lot of requests, especially on our corporate and business side, to have the same flexibility as in the home setting," said James Carter, Cellular One's marketing director. "It is a niche market, but we believe if you can meet customers' needs for one-number service quickly, a number of them will choose this."

The move is a reaction to customer complaints that it's too cumbersome to have separate numbers for home, work and the car -- let alone for pagers or other devices.

While Cellular One said its initiative is the first of its kind in this market, competitors have their own technologies aimed at resolving the same customer complaint.

"This technology has been out there for a while," said Chris Landes, a consultant at the firm of TeleChoice Inc. in Verona, N.J. "Customers want to go to one place to manage their messages."

For example, Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile, the other major cellular carrier in this market, offers a service called ContactLine that its customers can use to control whether their calls go to their cellular phone, traditional phone or pager, regardless of which number a caller dials.

Cellular One's move complements the industry's long-standing strategy to integrate cellular service and regular phones -- in the hope that many consumers will respond to telephone deregulation by choosing cellular carriers to handle all of their phone needs.

But to some degree, it bucks the industry's recent growth trends, which have concentrated on attracting casual users who spend much less on their cell phones than the hard-core business users who were the industry's original customers.

Most new customers have been attracted to inexpensive, no-frills service plans, often promoted by ad campaigns touting cellular as a way to summon help in case of a roadside emergency.

"What we're seeing with the high-end users is that there's a fixed number of those and that market is fairly heavily penetrated," Carter said. "This product will help us with users who have a high number of handsets" who want to concentrate their calls on one phone as much as possible.

FreedomPlus, which Cellular One has already introduced in three other cities, costs $6.95 a month on top of the customer's basic calling plan, Carter said. That means a customer saves money by diverting 17 minutes or more of full-rate local cellular calls per month to the FreedomPlus system, he said.

But customers will have to spend between $150 and $199 for equipment to start the service, he said.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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