AT&T Unity Does Bundles of ‘Free’

AT&T didn’t lose any time flexing its new muscle as the largest carrier. Soon after wrapping up its merger with BellSouth, AT&T is pitching mobile subscribers on a free calling plan to its landline customers.

The company said the new “AT&T Unity” calling plan, slated to begin Sunday, allows AT&T Unity customers to call or receive calls for free from any AT&T wireless and wireline phone numbers nationwide without incurring additional wireline usage fees or using their wireless Anytime minutes.

The new AT&T plan is identical to a plan for Cingular’s wireless, which is now owned by the combined AT&T/BellSouth. What’s different? “It gives customers access to a huge network,” AT&T spokesperson Dan Callahan told Callahan said AT&T hopes the new service draws new customers.

There is some fine print in the deal. AT&T said for customers to be eligible, calls must originate and terminate in the United States. And there are exceptions to the freebies, such as wireless voice mail calls, directory assistance calls, toll-free numbers, 900 numbers, international numbers, and “dial-around” numbers. And if you’re thinking rollover minutes are part of the deal, they’re not.

The new service unifies AT&T’s network of 100 million wireline and wireless phone numbers and explores the concept of bundled services, already a mainstay in other areas of the telecom industry. However it may cost subscribers a bundle to take advantage of the new service.

On top of the monthly $60 “AT&T Unity” plan fee, customers must also pay around $50 per month for unlimited local and long distance landline service.

AT&T isn’t alone in offering a plan providing free wireless calls to landline phones. T-Mobile, for instance, last year introduced its $39.99 MyFaves plan, letting wireless customers call any five people. Regional carrier Alltel offers a similar service encompassing 10 people.

Verizon is testing in Florida and Texas Complete Freedom, a more limited alternative allowing free calls between a subscriber’s single mobile and landline phone. The $79.94 per month service includes combined wired and wireless billing.

Verizon sees the Complete Freedom opening the way for what it calls a Grand Slam play: quad-play bundles including broadband, television,wireless and landline phone service leading telecom’s counter-attack against cable. Plus, the churn rate for bundled users is the lowest, according to Verizon.

For carriers, bundles ensure customer loyalty, said Verizon spokesperson Jim Smith. “Bundles are the way of the future.”

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