BELL ATLANTIC MOBILE'S NEW RATE TAKES ON AT&T: FIRST BABY BELL WITH SUCH A PLAN READIES $15 MIL IN ADS

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Bell Atlantic Mobile this week introduces an estimated $15 million ad campaign for its new flat-rate service for wireless customers.

A TV and print campaign promoting the service is expected to break later this week. The ads, featuring the voice of longtime spokesman James Earl Jones, will tout the ease and convenience of Bell Atlantic's new service. Bozell Worldwide, New York, is the agency.

The company's DigitalChoice SingleRate is a one-price plan for wireless phone users that is similar to a service introduced in May by AT&T Wireless. Bell Atlantic is the first Baby Bell with a flat rate.

SPURRING DEMAND

As competition intensifies in the $25 billion U.S. wireless market, analysts expect new marketing techniques such as flat rates and lower pricing to spur demand for wireless products.

"As phone companies come out with very attractive one-rate plans, that's making the market grow," said Mel Marten, a telecommunications analyst at Edward Jones.

He estimates the domestic wireless market is currently growing 20% to 25% annually.

AT&T Wireless was the first to launch a flat-fee service without conditions. Stephen Graham, VP-marketing communications worldwide at AT&T Corp., said the service was meant to attack the customer-confusion problems of the wireless market, with its variety of per-minute, roaming and analog-vs.-digital charges.

"You always get rewarded for solving a category problem," he said. "The new offer is changing the way people think about and use a wireless phone."

Mr. Graham added that he thinks AT&T's larger, national digital network will still give it the advantage over Bell Atlantic.

Bell Atlantic's DigitalChoice SingleRate across the U.S. costs $159.99 per month for 1,600 minutes. AT&T's Digital One Rate comes in three versions -- 600 minutes for $89.99, 1,000 minutes for $119.99 and 1,400 minutes for $149.99.

Bell Atlantic also offers less expensive flat-rate plans within its northeastern U.S. territory, starting at $39.99.

MORE SUCH PLANS AHEAD

This is probably just the first flat-rate plan from the Baby Bells.

Sprint PCS, a division of Sprint Corp., offers a flat-rate plan within its national digital network, called Home Rate USA; however, users who travel outside the Sprint digital coverage area pay 69 cents per minute.

The only other national wireless-service provider is Nextel Communications, which focuses on marketing to business customers.

Contributing: Laura Petrecca.

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