Cellnet launches digital network

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The Independent Online
CELLNET, the mobile telephone company owned by BT and Securicor, has launched a pounds 300m digital network covering 90 per cent of the country. Cellnet said charges for using the new telephone network would be the same as those paid by business customers on its existing analogue network.

The charges are also the same as the business tariffs on the digital network launched by Vodafone more than a year ago.

Digital technology offers more security and higher quality than analogue and will allow network operators to offer a wider range of services. The digital standard, called GSM, will also allow customers to make and receive calls in 22 countries by the end of this year, under 'roaming' agreements with operators overseas.

Cellnet said it expected to double its subscriber base to more than 2 million over the next two years. The company said there were likely to be 10 million mobile telephone users in Britain by the end of the decade.

Cellnet has no plans to launch a special digital tariff for consumers as it believes they will prefer to stick to the existing low-cost analogue tariff package, Lifetime. About 400,000 people have signed up to Lifetime since it was launched in November 1992.

A further deterrent to the average consumer considering a change to digital subscription is the cost of the telephone. Digital handsets are about pounds 300 or more, while analogue handsets can now be bought for pounds 30.

Bob Warner, managing director of Cellnet, said the company was not seeking to replace fixed telephone networks. 'Anyone who believes that cellular telephone can do that is deluding themselves. Our cost structure will never get to fixed-line levels,' he said. However, he said fixed and mobile operators should be able to work together in future, allowing calls made to a fixed telephone to be automatically passed to a mobile.

Cellnet also disclosed for the first time the average revenue per subscriber on its existing analogue service. These are pounds 708 a year for business users, pounds 240 for Lifetime customers and pounds 430 for subscribers on a regional tariff package called Citytime.

Cellnet said it foresaw no demand for a regional tariff on the new digital network. Fewer than 10,000 people are thought to have signed up for Citytime, which offers cheap call rates within a specific area but very high charges for calls made outside that zone.