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Wireless powerhouse plans public offering

The giant created by the merger of Bell Atlantic and Vodafone's U.S. mobile phone networks plans to go public this year.

Verizon Wireless, the giant created yesterday by the merger of Bell Atlantic and Vodafone's U.S. mobile phone networks, plans to go public this year, executives said today.

The company even put a public face on its new brand name, unveiling a marketing campaign, logo and a series of nationwide pricing plans.

The decision moves the new venture down the same publicly traded path sought by AT&T's wireless division, and which Sprint's PCS division has followed so successfully.

"We expect the IPO to roll out this year," said new Verizon Wireless chief executive Denny Strigl. The board had made that decision at its most recent meeting, and no more details were yet available, he said.

Verizon is launching as the largest mobile phone company in the U.S. market, with close to 20 million subscribers drawn from its two parent firms. Once Bell Atlantic's merger with GTE closes, that figure will rise to about 23 million, putting it far ahead of today's nationwide leaders AT&T and Sprint PCS.

But the new company is building an unfamiliar brand name from scratch, and that's where today's marketing campaign comes in.

The company is launching an expensive advertising blitz around the new brand, featuring TV, radio and newspaper ads in most of the major markets around the country. The ads paint Verizon as the "simple" way to get a wireless connection, and feature subscribers flashing a V for Victory-or in this case, V for Verizon--hand sign.

Verizon isn't yet divulging how much it's spending on the campaign, but a spokesman said it was "weighted at the appropriate level to establish a new corporate brand."

The company also released details on a new pricing plan that takes aim at AT&T's popular Digital One Rate, and Sprint's nationwide calling plans.

The plans will start at $35 a month for a nationwide service that includes any long-distance fees, and includes about 100 minutes of talking time. A 400-minute plan that's more comparable to AT&T starting plan is $55, a little cheaper than AT&T's lowest rates.

The company also is keeping most of the regional plans now offered separately by Bell Atlantic and Vodafone.