View from City Road: Mercury jokes may be no laughing matter

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There are two ways of looking at Mercury's free off-peak local calls - the marketing coup of the decade or madness in an extreme form. For the time being it is the latter which has the upper hand. The mobile telephone industry is rife with jokes about One-2-One.

Users include, it is said, armies of teenagers whose parents jumped at the chance to stop them running up huge bills on the fixed-wire phone, and minicab drivers who charge their customers for using the mobile when the calls are in fact free. Best of all has to be the baby alarm story - one telephone beside the babe, the other with the parent, and the line kept open all night long.

Cable & Wireless, Mercury's parent company, must hate it. Progress is perfectly fine, it says. A new package of tariffs announced yesterday to woo the business customer hardly suggests so, however.

One-2-One has a laudable 100,000- odd customers so far, 30,000 of which have signed up in the month since its rival Orange was launched. Even so, no one outside the company knows how much anyone spends or to what extent people use the service other than for its free calls. Outsiders fear the worst.