One 2 One plans return to free evening calls

One 2 One, the UK's fastest growing mobile phone network, is to bring back free evening phone calls for some new customers, intensifying the industry price war. But Tim Samples, the managing director, dampened speculation that the network's two shareholders were looking to float the business.

Chris Godsmark, Business Correspondent, reports.

Two aggressive price offers were unveiled by One 2 One yesterday for new customers signing up between February and April. One deal includes unlimited free calls on weekday evenings for the first time for more than two years. The other offers 50 per cent more free call minutes on some tariff packages.

One 2 One abandoned its original free evening calls offer, then only available in greater London, when some customers jammed the system after leaving phones switched on continuously. Subscribers were even rumoured to have turned their phones into makeshift baby monitors.

Mr Samples insisted that the latest offer was more likely to appeal to business customers. "We are all working hectic, crazy hours, when our calls would be free. Anyway, we have plenty of capacity to meet the demand."

The company, jointly owned by Cable & Wireless and US West, yesterday predicted the UK's mobile market would continue the rapid growth seen before Christmas. One 2 One estimated more than 20 per cent of the population would own a mobile phone by April 2000, up from less than 15 per cent today.

One 2 One signed up 206,000 net new customers in the last quarter of last year, close to Vodafone, the market leader and well ahead of Orange and Cellnet. The network expects to spend around pounds 30m on advertising this year and a similar figure next year.

Mr Samples said there were "no plans at this stage" by the two investors to float One 2 One on the market, or for a change in the shareholding structure. There has also been speculation that Cable & Wireless was seeking to take full control of the business, which would be incorporated into its majority-owned UK cable group, C&W Communications.

"We don't have anything on the radar screen. There's no real movement on that issue and we don't have any plans at this stage," Mr Samples said. However, he admitted that flotation was one option to raise extra funds when One 2 One used up its pounds 1.2bn bank borrowing facility. The company still has pounds 500m available from the facility.

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