Mobile phone company to extend free calls offer

FREE OFF-PEAK local calls will be offered in Birmingham and the Midlands later this year by Mercury's mobile telephone service, One- 2-One, writes Mary Fagan.

The company, which launched the service in Greater London and surrounding areas in September, also intends to introduce One-2- One in seven other city centres from this summer. The rush in the London area was so great that there were not enough telephones to meet demand, although the shortage is now coming to an end.

According to anecdotal evidence, many of the telephones have been bought by parents to stop their children running up huge bills at home. Industry sources also say that some minicab drivers charge clients for using the telephones off- peak, although the calls are free.

It is thought that 40,000-50,000 people in and around London subscribe to One-2-One, which is a joint venture between Mercury's parent, Cable & Wireless, and US West. It is believed the majority opt for the personal tariff, paying a monthly subscription of pounds 12.50 and 25p a minute for peak calls in return for the free local calls in the evenings and at weekends.

One-2-One will not confirm the number of its subscribers, but says two-thirds are new to mobile telephony and 25 per cent are women.

Yesterday, the company announced a scheme for business users, offering 30 minutes of free peak-time calls every month for six months for those who sign up by the end of April. Existing business users pay pounds 20 per month and up to 18p a minute for calls.

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