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Plenty of good rates for Coast consumers

Competition paying off with deals for wireless customers

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — If you think you’ve found the best deal on rates for wireless services on the Coast, don’t get too comfortable. There’s a rate war going on that means the environment is constantly changing.

Plus, getting the best rates depends on how you use wireless services. For example, if you use your cellular phone primarily so that other people can get in touch with you rather than calling out frequently, then the plans that offer free incoming calls might be the best deal.

Other issues include free long distance, no roaming fees, size of coverage areas, reliability and clarity of service. To make it even more complex, there are a lot of other popular features that can be added on such as multiparty conferencing, voice mail, texting over the phone, fax services and Internet services.

The largest wireless provider in the state is now Cingular Wireless, which resulted from the merger of BellSouth Mobility, BellSouth Mobility DCS, Cellular One (in some states) and eight other wireless companies. The joint venture of SBC Communications and BellSouth created the second largest wireless company in the country, and represents the largest consolidation of brands in the wireless industry.

“I feel certain that you’ll find that Cingular’s service is the very best that Mississippi has to offer,” said Shannon Brumfield, customer operations director for Cingular in Mississippi. “By joining forces with SBC, overnight BMI (now known as Cingular Wireless) became the second largest carrier in the entire nation. Our new company is clearly the largest carrier in the state. This change to Cingular is not only great for us, but it’s great for our customers as well.”

The company’s “Cingular Promise” is to provide a new level of superior, individual customer service. Customers can update their rate plans at anytime with no charges, and automatically receive promotional rates on new phones every two years. Cingular is also announcing unique offers on calling plans and equipment that includes its “Chat All You Want” promotion, which allows unlimited local wireless-to-wireless calls or text messages between Cingular customers in the same market. The promotion is available at no cost as part of a number of rate plans.

Cingular advertises that it “takes the confusion out of wireless” by offering plans that have no roaming and no nationwide long-distance in all 50 states and U.S. Territories. For more information, see the Web site www.cingular.com.

Jana Ray, marketing and advertising manager, Cellular South, said while there are a lot of rate plans available that allow customers to have unlimited minutes in certain calling areas, Cellular South offers something that is a little bit different.

“We were the first in the state of Mississippi to offer the free incoming calls plan,” Ray said. “And with free incoming calls you also get a range of rate plans that include free outgoing minutes as well as free nights and weekends. Our strategy is a little bit different because we are the wireless provider for people who need to be reached.

“Obviously people want a wireless phone because they have a life, a job and friends, and everyone isn’t always at the same place at the same time. We tailor our rate plans to people who need to be reached, and that is why the free incoming calls plan has been so successful for us.”

Ray said the wireless industry is growing at a phenomenal rate, and that is why there are so many options out there. But she cautions that when shopping for the best deal, look at the fine print details. A lot of the best rate offers are limited-time offers or they require long-term contracts, sometimes as long as three years.

“You need to make sure it isn’t too good to be true,” she said. “Some may sound great, but may not have the coverage and clarity that you need. Cellular South has the full package. We have always been a leader in providing the best coverage and clarity in our markets.”

Earlier this year Cellular South announced a major network expansion of $30 million that will increase the company’s number of cell towers in Mississippi by 65%.

“Combine that increased coverage and clarity with free incoming calls and all the different regional and national rates plans we have to offer, and I think we have a better plan than others out there,” Ray said. “Certainly we’re in a price war right now. Being able to provide the best value at the best price is our goal. Implementing free incoming calls was a way for us to provide consumers with the best value, and at the same time it falls in line with our strategy of trying to implement rate plans tailored to the way our customers use their phones.”

Ray said it is an exciting time to be in the wireless telephone service business. Currently about 30% of the people in the U.S. have wireless telephone service. In the next four years that it is expected to reach 70% penetration.

“That’s pretty amazing,” Ray said. “By 2005 there will be about 1.6 billion wireless subscribers in the world. Some people are using them instead of land lines at home. Statistics show over the next two years about 17% of the population of U.S. will be using cellular phones exclusively instead of land lines.”

Another popular provider on the Coast, particularly for businesses, is Southern LINC, a subsidiary of Southern Company.

“We recently introduced 2001 rate plans that offer exceptional value,” said Gretchen Crawford, communications specialist with Southern LINC. “Our existing customer base has no charge to shift to these rate plans, and it is also available to prospective customers. We also have ongoing equipment promotions. In addition to competitive rates, I feel Southern LINC can offer some unique advantages such as 127,000 square miles of contiguous coverage. We not only cover urban areas and highway corridors, but we also branch into rural areas, which is important to our mobile business customers. In addition to our rural coverage, by Motorola statistics we have the most reliable iDen network in the world.”

Crawford said the company’s Gulf Coast cell sites have weathered numerous hurricanes while cell towers in their northern region can withstand one half inch of ice.

“We have generators at the sites in case of temporary electrical outages,” Crawford said. “In times of crisis, our customers such as carpenters, construction workers and plumbers can be there to help their customers after severe weather.”

Southern LINC has seen its number of customers grow by 33% in 2000 and has continued on a fast growth pace in 2001. “We reached 200,000 customer mark last August,” she said. “Southern LINC is very competitive in the marketplace.”

No long distance charges and no roaming fees for a 12-state service area are popular with Digiph customers, says Tammy Bloming, a sales representative for Digiph, a division of Powertel, on the Coast.

“You get 3,600 minutes with our $40 plan. You never run over,” Bloming said. “The first incoming minute is free, and we provide basic voice mail, caller id block, call waiting and call return.”

Bloming said choosing the best deal on wireless services can depend on where the customer is going to be using wireless services the most often. And she said business customers like services the company provides such as Power Chat, texting over the phone using the keypad to send messages.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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