In an announcement expected Friday, AT&T will introduce AT&T Unity, a pricing package that allows its cellular customers to call any AT&T landline customer without incurring additional usage fees or using their wireless minutes. While AT&T wireless customers can already call each other free, the new plan will extend the program on a large scale to landline customers, enlarging what AT&T likes to call its "community."
"I think it's a very significant development," said Mark A. Winther, a telecommunications analyst with IDC, a technology consulting firm. "It's taking the emphasis away from price and putting it on the value of being part of the community."
Winther said the package would probably appeal to high-volume customers, both in the consumer market and in small businesses, not to the shopper looking for the lowest monthly rate. The plans apply only to AT&T wireless packages starting at $59.99 for 900 anytime minutes a month.
To subscribe to a AT&T Unity plan, a customer would need to have AT&T wireless service as well as a landline plan that offered unlimited local and long-distance service. AT&T's unlimited local and long-distance landline service starts at $40 a month if bought online.
The pricing plan comes weeks after AT&T closed its, the largest telecommunications merger in history. With the merger, AT&T became the sole owner of Cingular Wireless, and on Monday the company dropped the Cingular brand in favor of the AT&T name. AT&T previously owned 60 percent of Cingular, and BellSouth owned 40 percent. The combined company offers wireless and landline service in 22 states.
"This is the first of many products that are going to come out of the AT&T-BellSouth merger," said Ralph de la Vega, group president of regional wireline operations for AT&T, of San Antonio.
Winther said other carriers would probably try to respond with new bundling options, but that AT&T would have an advantage because of its large coverage area.
Other wireless carriers, like T-Mobile with its myFaves option, already allow customers to call landline numbers free, but those are typically restricted to a handful of designated numbers. AT&T's strategy is a logical step in telecommunications marketing, Winther said, following on the popularity of bundled packages that combine phone, broadband and cable services on one bill.