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Cell phone hangs up on drunken dialers

Australian cell phone provider allows users to block access to specific numbers--before making drunken calls that they will regret.

Ever woken up one morning with a raging hangover that was promptly worsened by the memory of the drunken cell phone call to the ex at 3 a.m.?

If the memory is not painful enough, the aftermath--potentially involving apologies, restraining orders, a "friendly visit" from the ex's new partner (who is probably either a black belt in Zen Do Kai or a leading underworld figure) and sundry other humiliations--adds to the agony.

Amid the flurry of capped plans, bundling and discounting characterizing the pre-Christmas mobile marketplace, Australia's Virgin Mobile has sought to differentiate itself with a service tailored to help people avoid making those embarrassing drunken calls.

A survey of 409 people by Virgin Mobile, a joint venture of The Virgin Group and Optus, found 95 percent made drunken phone calls. Of those calls, 30 percent were to ex-partners, 19 percent to current partners, and 36 percent to other people, including their bosses.

The company said that, beginning Wednesday, Virgin Mobile customers could dial 333 plus a phone number they don't want to call when drunk. Virgin Mobile would--for a 25-cent fee--stop all calls to that number by blacklisting it until 6 a.m. the following day.

The move comes amid an intensifying price war between mobile players to secure customers, exemplified Tuesday by a flurry of announcements. Virgin is launching a new AU$45 (about $35) monthly cap that includes up to AU$200 (about $155) worth of mobile services, while rival Vodafone also launched a new AU$49 (about $38) cap that would allow customers to use up to AU$230 (about $178) worth of services.

For its part, Optus touted a service allowing its customers to call overseas on their mobiles for the cost of a local call.

Iain Ferguson of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.