Cincinnati Bell Sets 'New Rules' in Wireless Plan

By James Pilcher, Enquirer staff writer

New Plan:

Cincinnati Bell will unveil Monday a new calling plan, allowing unlimited calls to and from any Bell wireless or land-line number within the local calling area. All the plans include no contract, nationwide roaming, unlimited mobile-to-mobile calls, domestic long distance, voice mail, caller ID, call waiting and unlimited incoming text messages. Activation fees apply; off peak hours are 9 p.m. to 6 a.m Monday-Friday and weekends.

Here are the details (plans are also available for 1,000 peak minutes and 3,000 peak minutes):

Plan Unlimited Bell calling Plus 500

Peak mins. Plus 1,500 peak mins. Monthly rate $39.99 $59.99* $99.99 Nights & Weekends unlimited Unlimited unlimited Add'l. minute charges 20 cents 40 cents 25 cents Add'l. users $25/mo. $10/mo.** $10/mo.** Max. no. of users 5 5 10

  • offered at an introductory rate of .99 for the first 3 months ** or /mo. for a Cincinnati Bell calling user

"In Network?" "Friends & Family?" Cincinnati Bell thinks it's beaten such calling programs.

The area's main telephone company -- and market leader for cell phone customers -- Monday will unveil a network and pricing initiative that will allow wireless subscribers to call any Cincinnati Bell phone, either land-based or wireless, for one flat monthly fee.

It is thought to be the first program of its kind in the country, because other regional telephone companies either don't not offer cell phone service or are too large to pull off such an initiative.

"We are very uniquely positioned for this," said Bell's recently installed chief operating officer Rodney Dir. "How important is it for a customer to be able to call potentially up to 2 million other customers without having it charge against their wireless minutes?"

The move is seen as a way for Bell not only to boost sagging wireless subscriptions, but also to further defend its primary franchise - its land-line business, which is under attack from cable companies and other providers using Internet-based technology for home phones.

"The value of having a land line goes up immediately for people," said Andy Castonguay, senior analyst with The Yankee Group, a Boston-based the technology consulting and analysis firm. "It also helps their branding from a standpoint that it encourages people to understand Cincinnati Bell as a total entity offers a converged, simple, one-stop shop."

The plan, dubbed "New Rules," calls for wireless customers to pay about $40 a month for access to the network.

Then all calls to all Cincinnati Bell wireless and land-line phones are free, as long as they are made within the local calling area. Calls to customers of other cell phone providers or to land lines operated by someone other than Bell or outside of the local network would cost 20 cents a minute. Long distance and roaming remain free.

But Dir said that customers could pay an additional $20 a month to get

500 out-of-network minutes, adding that the $60 overall plan could be the company's new "sweet spot."

"Our (revenue per user) for wireless is about $46 today," Dir said.

"This really could raise that, especially since we feel this takes the worry out of having to make sure you're not going over on your minutes."

In addition, Bell is revamping its traditional plans for those customers who don't want the free-calling feature, lowering its price for a standard 500-minute plan to about $40, which Dir says offers more minutes for the money than two of its major competitors in the market, Verizon and Cingular. And its traditional plans will include options for up to 6,000 minutes a month, which will cost about $200 a month.

"And believe me, there are customers out there who want that kind of plan," said Dir, who previously served as an Atlanta-based vice president for national retail sales and operations for wireless operator T-Mobile.

Bell lost $3 million in the first quarter, with the wireless division reporting flat revenues. It also reported that 2.6 percent of its customers left for other carriers.

Dir said that the effects of the new efforts probably won't be seen until the fourth quarter, but that the hope is that the new plans will help build Bell's wireless subscriber base, which in turn could mean more wireless revenue.

But Castonguay said that the new network plan could keep customers from wanting to shut off their land lines and just use cell phones or change home service to other operators such as Time Warner.

"It really capitalizes on that fixed-line network and makes it more valuable," he said.

Program has risk to Bell

The company already had introduced free calling between Bell wireless customers, matching programs such as Verizon's "In Network." Bell also has offered free calls to a specified home number from a Bell cell phone since late last year.

The extra charge Bell is asking for out-of-network calls could be a risk, however.

"It's difficult to know how customers will react for that jump from $40 to $60 for those extra 500 minutes, and that's a gamble," said Castonguay.

"But on the flip side, it could be a big hit with their business enterprise customers as well."

At the same time Bell is launching the "New Rules," the company is launching a marketing offensive touting its local wireless network as the best in Cincinnati.

While saying that the new pricing and network plans as well as the new ad campaign were positive moves overall, Castonguay said there are concerns with setting expectations too high for customers.

"Those can be difficult to manage, with people thinking their bill could be lower and then they call a bunch of out-of-network friends," he said.

"This is true for all the national wireless guys with major plans.

"Still, this changes the whole value proposition of a home phone line combined with a cell phone," he said.


Copyright 2005, The Enquirer

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