RealTime IT News

Wireline, Wireless Players Pool Minutes

SBC Communications , BellSouth and Cingular Wireless have unveiled a service aimed at erasing the boundaries between wireless and wireline calls for consumers.

The move is expected to accelerate the continued integration of wireless services into long-distance providers' traditional wireline services in key markets around the country, as bundling as a strategy spreads among telecommunications providers.

Dubbed MinuteShare, the service -- currently on trial in Texas with customers who have SBC local and domestic long distance service and Cingular wireless service -- will allow residential consumers to share a single bucket of minutes between their SBC or BellSouth wireline and Cingular wireless phones.

"The service is designed for people who use the large number of night and weekend minutes typically found in wireless plans to make long distance calls from home," the companies said in a statement Thursday.

"With the MinuteShare service, they will be able to take advantage of these minutes to make long distance calls while enjoying the clarity and quality of their home wireline phone. Subscribers who already have unlimited local service will continue to have unlimited local calling from their home wireline phone and will enjoy the convenience of a single bill and single customer service contract."

The companies said consumers will benefit because the service will remove the distinction between wireline and wireless calls, while for the companies MinuteShare will help SBC local phone companies and BellSouth acquire and retain customers. They said it will also help Cingular grow its market share.

Cingular already works with both companies, which sell Cingular's wireless service through their sales channels and offer it in bundle options to both residential and business customers.

"MinuteShare enables Cingular to take advantage of our affiliation with our parent companies, SBC Communications and BellSouth, plus offer a valuable bundled service to consumers," said Marc Lefar, chief marketing officer of Cingular Wireless. "The MinuteShare service will move the companies well beyond the soft bundling of wireline and wireless services occurring today to full product integration."

Keith Mallinson, executive vice president of research firm The Yankee Group, agreed. "Pooling wireless minutes is a significant change in how carriers offer voice services, and it will be a differentiator for Cingular, SBC and BellSouth," he said. "Consumers will benefit from the convenience and flexibility to make a call on either their traditional or wireless phone."

The companies said they will sell MinuteShare through their call centers and retail outlets, and it will be available with Home, Regional and National wireless coverage areas and minute packages ranging from low to high usage for a single monthly rate. They also noted that incoming calls to the home wireline phone will not count toward the monthly minutes.

The companies plan to make the service available later this year.