RealTime IT News

Cingular Lets Users Carry Minutes

As digital wireless phone carriers look for ways to bring on new customers, and keep the ones they have, Cingular Wireless has found one that gives customers real value: rolling over unused minutes to the next month.

The strategy's twofold for the subsidiary of BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications ; one, it differentiates its service from a crop of competitors, and two, gives fence-sitting customers a reason to pitch into the pricier paying plans Rollover is found.

Getting new customers is critical in a market that's quickly reaching its saturation point, according to Probe Research, Inc. The research firm finds wireless phone growth slowing from 27 to 25 percent, and customers are going to be looking for a service that's compelling before signing a contract.

"Growth always comes as a result of useful content or carrier moves to encourage use with interesting handsets or low prices," said Hilary Mine, Probe Research lead analyst for wireless Internet infrastructure.

Until now, wireless phone users who didn't use the long distance and local minutes allotted in the course of the month lost them forever. For those with the $19.99 and $29.99 plans, that wasn't much of a loss. Moreover, those that don't use wireless phones much had no reason to move to a $40-plus account if the minutes vanished at the end of the calendar month.

The new plan, under the campaign slogan, "They're your minutes - keep 'em," is more attractive to those intermittent phone users who are right on the margin of needing more minutes but not wanting to spend the extra $10-$20 a month for a more expensive plan.

Rollover is available on the Cingular Home 400 accounts and higher, pushing the price of admission for those fence sitters to $49.99 - $249.99 a month. Subscribers must sign a two-year contract.

Minutes can be rolled over for up to 12 months.

While 3G (third generation) wireless phones receive most of the press these days, with its promise of Internet-over-the-phone, most wireless carriers still have a lot riding on 2.5G (digital wireless phones with Internet-like capabilities) and the millions of people in the U.S. subscribed to the service.

Cingular has been rapidly expanding its wireless network to compete with the industry heavyweights who are firmly ensconced in the American landscape: Sprint Corp. , Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless . According to the research firm In-Stat/MDR, Cingular falls behind these carriers in terms of customer satisfaction.

"(We) have found that there are four attributes that are key to driving customer satisfaction with wireless Internet services; reliability of service, ease of use, breadth of applications available and quality of service," said Becky Diercks, director of wireless research at In-Stat/MDR.