Bell Atlantic tests billing approach for wireless

Bell Atlantic Mobile has announced it is testing on a limited basis the concept of reversing the charges for inbound calls to wireless phones.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) last summer came out in favor of "calling party pays" (CPP) services, and encouraged carriers to re-examine their policies requiring cell phone users to pay for every call.

Bell Atlantic's announcement is one of the few responses from the telecom industry following that signal from the FCC, said Mark Lowenstein, vice president at the Yankee Group.

"Even after the FCC passed some commentary saying that they feel strongly about the issue, there was not a lot of activity," Lowenstein said.

But even Bell Atlantic is noncommittal as to whether or when its new service, dubbed Call Me, will be more widely available.

Call Me, for now, is available only in Delaware. The service plays a recorded message to anyone trying to call a subscriber's cellular phone, alerting the caller as to the cost of the call - between 25 cents and 35 cents per minute. If the caller opts to proceed with the call, the charges will show up on a Bell Atlantic phone bill. Delaware customers can also pick five people for whom they will pay the incoming-call charges.

Bell Atlantic has instated Call Me as a corporate offering which will run indefinitely throughout Delaware but has made no further decisions about the service.

"We are going to wait and see based on our experience in Delaware," said a company spokeswoman.

Yankee Group's Lowenstein said he views the trial as one that plays specifically to Bell Atlantic's base of business customers.

"It is geared at the corporate market, which increasingly sees wireless as mainstream. Department manages are tying to make decisions about deploying mobile devices and they want to have more of a sense of the costs involved," Lowenstein said.

Bell Atlantic expects Call Me to spur the use of wireless phones, in part by making wireless communication reflect more closely traditional phone use.

Incoming calls now make up about 20 per cent of all wireless voice traffic, according to company officials.

Analyst Lowenstein said even incremental increases in incoming calls tends to spark additional outbound use.

In Europe, CPP is the norm.

"A lot of eyes will be on this, since there have been very few implementations of programs like this in the US," predicted Lowenstein, but he added that he does not expect wholesale adoption of CPP in the near future.

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