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Wireless plans ring true for telcos

Wireless telephone players are hoping "killer apps" for voice products will lure users to the networks they are building at great cost.

ATLANTA--If you build it, they will come.

This isn't about Turner Field, the new home of the Braves baseball team, but about the wireless telephone business. Industry executives who are attending this week's Expo Comm trade show are banking on the same strategy to turn their multibillion-dollar phone networks into major moneymakers.

They are hoping that users will come to their networks if they provide "killer apps" for voice products. "For consumers, I think you'll see more products like our TalkDial service, which allows customers to dial hands-free," Richard Lynch, executive vice president of Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile, said today in a speech.

"For businesses, clearly there will be exponential growth in wireless data applications, which will help us be highly selective in the data we choose to receive," he added.

Lynch and others concede it won't be easy. In California, for example, Pacific Bell and AirTouch are competing against each other in the wireless sector. That's a twist from the previous decade when they were part of the same company.

In some markets, Lynch contends, as many as seven wireless carriers as well as resellers will be competing against each other. That would be a shift from today, where some metro markets, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, are dominated by just two companies, leading to charges of a "duopoly" among many consumers.

Lynch said the competition would lead to simplified pricing plans. For example, he pointed to one by PrimeCo Personal Communications that offers PCS (personal communications services) customers just two rates: one for in-state calls and one for calls to out-of-state locations.

He didn't think prices automatically would be affected by consolidation, even by the rumored SBC Communications and AT&T merger.

The new competition has a potential downside, however. "There is a danger of making customers suffer through wireless 'techno-glut' by building more and more functionality into products and services and advertising them 'all for the same low price,'" he added.

Despite the hurdles, Lynch and other executives attending the show think their "build-it" strategy will pay off. Why? They point to the industry's rapid growth. In the past two years, the industry has added as many customers as it did in the first 12 years. In addition, it took only 10 years to reach 30 million cellular telephones, compared with 70 years for land-line phones.

"That's not to say there won't be winners and losers, but don't write off wireless...and don't write off any of the players due to their locations," Lynch said.