John Dunn, who spends much time on the road
and has loved ones scattered throughout the country, decided last
year the time had come to cut the cord.
On his telephone, that is.
In a sign of the growing acceptance of wireless technology,
thousands of consumers have made their mobile phone their primary
phone. Wireless companies gathered here this week for the Cellular
Telecommunications Industry Association say they increasingly are
seeing consumers reach for a cell phone rather than a traditional
wireline receiver to make a call.
In Dunn's case, he figured he could save money by purchasing a
wireless plan with a set number of long-distance minutes that he
can use at home or while traveling.
"I've got the same phone number in my pocket day in and day
out," said Dunn, of Clarksville, Tenn. "It makes it very
About 2 percent of 86 million wireless subscribers use their
mobiles as their only phone, according to the Yankee Group research
firm. Some users say they end up saving money by purchasing
hundreds of minutes for one flat rate compared with their monthly
local and long-distance bills combined.
More commonly, consumers are using their cell phone to make
calls when they could have opted for a wired phone instead, said Ed
Reynolds, president of BellSouth Mobility Inc. Rather than paying
35 cents for a pay phone call or waiting for someone else in the
house to get off the line, people are dialing on their cell phones.
"We're seeing a very significant amount of that," Reynolds
In parts of the country that have limited landline service
because of their remote location or sparse population, wireless
also can offer a way to "leapfrog" old technology.
Tom Wheeler, president of the cellular association, said
American companies are just beginning to wake up to what developing
countries have long known: "Wireless is the most cost-efficient
and quickest way to get 21st century service to remote areas."
Federal regulators, for example, are looking at ways to entice
wireless carriers to expand their services to underserved areas,
particularly American Indian reservations, that may not have
regular phone service.
Wireless companies are even putting pressure on traditional
phone companies in some places to lower their prices. In Regent,
N.D., a wireless company has become a formidable challenger to the
"Customers like that they're not locked into one choice," said
Dave Friedman, vice president of marketing for U.S. Cellular Corp.
His company has had success in offering residential cellular
service to some New England customers.
Leap Wireless International, a California-based company, offers
a service in markets such as Chattanooga, Tenn., called
"Cricket." That plan costs callers a flat rate of $29.95 for all
local calls and incoming calls from anywhere in the world. The
company says it is capturing an underserved market through this
product. Consumers who use it have an average income 50 percent
less than traditional wireless users.
There are practical limits to the number of consumers who can go
the cell-phone-only route. Some wireless carriers are facing
serious strains to their network capacity, particularly in dense
For that reason and others, some analysts say they see wireless
not so much as a replacement for regular phones as an added option
for consumers seeking to expand on their telecommunications
"We don't look at wireless as better than wireline," said
Darryl Sterling, senior analyst at the Boston-based Yankee Group.
Instead, he said he looks at mobile phones more as a complement to
Companies say that in many markets, people are interested in
wireless services for their second line, since they may want one
landline to hook up their fax or Internet access.
According to the cellular association, 43 percent of all
wireless subscribers have more than one regular phone line at home
and 44 percent of those people said they would like to be able to
convert that line to wireless.
Young professionals, who may be moving into a new place and
haven't already paid for their wireline connection, are among those
most likely to take the cellular-only route in the future, Wheeler
"If you have family and friends spread out over a wide area,
and you travel, it makes the most sense," Dunn said.