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AT&T Wireless wants to be world traveler

The company, looking to win over more international dialers, announces a slew of new roaming agreements with wireless carriers in about 100 different countries.

NEW ORLEANS--AT&T Wireless made a bid to capture more international phone dialers by announcing a slew of new agreements with wireless carriers in about 100 different countries.

AT&T Wireless Chief Technology Officer Rod Nelson on Monday said the company now can present a serious challenge to the Bells, which are the traditional market leaders. "Two years ago, international was not in our business plan," he said during the CTIA Wireless 2003 show here. "The tangle of technology and services made it too difficult."

The new agreements involve "roaming," which is the lifeblood of the cellular industry. Carriers negotiate roaming agreements so their subscribers' calls can be completed in areas their own networks don't cover. The calls roam onto a competitor's network instead. A fee is usually paid for the privilege. Financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed.

International calls by U.S. dialers, both landline and cellular, amounted to a $9 billion revenue generator in 2002. The lion's share of the revenue went to landline phone companies including BellSouth, SBC Communications and Verizon Communications, according to a study by industry watchers IDC.

Nelson claims AT&T Wireless has signed more international roaming agreements than any of its competitors. But Verizon Wireless Vice President Bill Stone refuted that, saying "we're just as well-positioned."

Meanwhile, Cingular Wireless and AT&T Wireless announced that they've entered into similar roaming agreements for their customers in the United States.

"Our customers' phones and all the features will work the same--whether the customers are in Cingular or AT&T Wireless territory," said Stan Sigman, chief executive of Cingular.

AT&T Wireless unveiled nine new wireless devices at the conference, including the Panasonic GU87, available for $300. The carrier is also selling the Tungsten W, a combination PDA (personal digital assistant) and phone that costs $550 and is available at Palm Store.

Other new devices include a Sony Ericsson modem for laptops that can use both a cell phone network and wireless networks using the Wi-Fi standard. Wi-Fi is used to create 300-foot zones where laptops, phones or PDAs can connect wirelessly at up to 2.4 kilobits per second.