A small Colorado company has reduced the cost of an average cellular call to the price point of a soda.
CellAir Saver is an alternative access service for cellular customers that charges a flat rate of 25 cents per minute for any call within the contiguous United States. The service was conceived and orchestrated by Dean Olson, president of Englewood, Colo.-based Long Distance Management Corp. The service mark is owned by Philadelphia-based exchange carrier, U.S. Wats Inc., and LDMC has marketing and product development rights for CellAir Saver, said Olson.
To use CellAir Saver, a customer is assigned a direct inward dial (DID) number to program into the handset’s speed dial function. When initiating a call, whether local or long-distance, a user hits the preprogrammed speed key, receives a signal, then hangs up. The DID call travels an extensive but rapid route, first to a nearby cell tower, then through ground lines of the regional Bell operating company, which forwards the call to a switch at U.S. Wats. Here U.S. Wats recognizes the DID and “calls back” the user, who is provided an activated dial tone. Turnaround time is about 9 seconds, according to LDMC.
Because no one actually answers the initial DID-the point at which a long-distance call is detected for billing-calls with CellAir Saver are not billable by the RBOC, Olson explained.
The technology driving CellAir Saver may be complex, but LDMC believes it is relatively easy to use. Still, it lacks the simplicity that embodies the current trend in the wireless consumer arena. To use CellAir Saver, cellular customers must sign up for Calling Party Pays, a service that bills airtime fees to the cellular customer’s incoming callers.
Once a DID call has been turned around by U.S. Wats and is on its call back leg, said Olson, it is classified as an interstate call-billed by long distance carriers. As such, with Calling Party Pays that is a “free” call for the user. U.S. Wats acts as the calling party, then forwards charges to a CellAir Saver customer, billed in real time at 25 cents per minute.
In order to bill interstate cellular calls, long-distance carriers must have access to ground lines. Hence, the CellAir Saver program, which employs RBOCs’ ground lines, could meet resistance among these companies.
However, Calling Party Pays is growing in popularity and in Denver-CellAir Saver’s first market-only U S West Cellular can offer the service. The competitor, Cellular One, doesn’t have ground lines and is unable to bill long-distance calls traveling through U S West Communications’ ground lines.
CellAir Saver users such as sales representatives, who do not wish incoming callers to pay for airtime, can obtain an 800 number from LDMC that will reverse Calling Party Pays charges back to them.
While CellAir Saver adds an extra step to placing a cellular call, LDMC believes the value of the service-reducing airtime costs between 30 percent and 70 percent-will hurdle such inconveniences. To sign up for CellAir Saver service, cellular users pay $75 up front and are charged according to how often they use the phone.
In addition to Colorado, CellAir Saver service is now available in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming and Cincinnati, Ohio, markets, said Olson, and soon will be implemented in Washington, Utah and select cities in New Jersey. LDMC is actively pursuing master agents in its markets.