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Wireless price war hotter by the minute

America's three biggest cell phone service providers--Verizon Wireless, Cingular and AT&T--introduce new dialing plans and give away talk minutes.

In the latest round of a cutthroat price war, America's three biggest cell phone service providers have all introduced new dialing plans in the last few days.

On Monday, No. 2 U.S. cell phone service provider Cingular Wireless said it intends to make available, at no additional charge to some subscribers, up to 5,000 night and weekend minutes a month, plus 1,000 minutes a month of calls between its own cell phone subscribers. Final details of the changes, which affect its GSM Nation national plan, are expected to be announced later on Monday.

On Friday, AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless began offering what are known as "unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes," which allow unlimited talk time between subscribers of the same carrier. Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest cell phone service provider, and No. 3 AT&T Wireless previously capped the number of minutes their own subscribers could spend talking to each other.

Sprint PCS already offers, for an extra $5 a month, unlimited minutes between Sprint PCS subscribers. Analysts expect T-Mobile USA and Nextel Communications to overhaul some of their plans soon in reaction of their competitors' recent moves.

The minutes one-upmanship of the last few days is further evidence that the competition between U.S. cell phone service providers continues to increase and that carriers are still relying on their voice plans as their main draw. More than 95 percent of all their revenue comes from selling voice plans, but U.S. service providers are beginning to report some successes with the data-oriented Internet services like picture mails or downloadable games.

"Voice is still a killer application," Verizon Wireless Chief Executive Dennis Strigl said during a recent conference call.