Mobile phone networks try to connect with the ordinary people

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The Independent Online
THIS WEEK you will have had difficulty avoiding a barrage of advertisements telling you that a mobile telephone was what was lacking in your life.

The two network operators - Cellnet and Vodafone - are about to offer cheap mobile telephone services aimed at 'ordinary people' rather than the city slicker. The idea is to persuade people not only that they can afford a cellular telephone, but also that they will soon wonder how they ever organised their lives without one - even if they are not executives.

The new services are designed for people who would not use a mobile telephone very often, but would value it as 'a lifestyle product', according to Cellnet. The charges reflect this - monthly rentals are down by about pounds 10, but each call will cost more than it would if you were using the normal business services. The industry estimates that if you expect to run up a bill for calls of less than pounds 35 a month, then the new services would work out cheaper than the business versions.

The handsets are also cheaper than the pounds 400- pounds 500 models sold to business people. Sony and Cellnet have struck a deal whereby Sony's pounds 300 handset will be pre-programmed to work on the Cellnet network.

All the major handset manufacturers have promised to make pounds 250 models available in high street shops in time for the launch of the new services. As the market develops, they hope to bring the cost down to about pounds 200. It may also be possible to rent once the industry has a clearer idea of consumer demand.

Last Friday, Cellnet launched an advertising campaign for its new Lifetime service - apparently designed to bring mobile telephony to fathers picking up their children from playgroup and fishing enthusiasts desperate to report the size of their latest catch. Lifetime is scheduled to begin in November.

According to Stafford Taylor, Cellnet's managing director: 'We are trying to convey the point that these phones would be there so you can contact people or be contacted when you are dealing with life's little emergencies - when you lose your car keys, or your daughter misses the last bus home from the disco.'

Tomorrow, Vodafone will fight back with advertisements for its LowCall service, due to start on 1 October.

But it is not just the network operators who have their sights set on new customers. 'Service providers' are targeting the same people. Service providers are the link between the operators of cellular networks (Cellnet and Vodafone) and people who subscribe. It is the service provider who would send your monthly bill.

Hutchison Telecom is the UK's largest service provider, and it is spending heavily this week (about pounds 1.5m) on double-page colour advertisements in the national press that promise to explain, even to stubborn technophobes, the 'hi-tech and sometimes bewildering world' of the mobile telephone.

Hutchison Telecom's market research gives a clue to the logic behind this advertising. It predicted that by the end of the decade up to 20 per cent of the UK population could be using a mobile telephone - four times today's figure. Economic improvement, a workforce containing more women and part-timers, and a rise in self-employed people should all help to bring this about, the researchers said.

Hutchison believes the biggest barrier stopping people buying mobile telephones has been the image of the industry. It said mobile telephone dealers have put people off with contracts including hidden ties, such as penalty clauses if you fail to give lengthy notice that you want to stop using the service. The company has therefore devised a 'no ties' contract that lets users opt out without notice.

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