Unwired Americans 'Tell All' About How They're Using Mobile Phones

DALLAS — Take a walk on the wireless side these days and you're in for a surprise. Americans are using wireless phones to answer personal ads, chat on talk radio, check the movie lineup and order everything from fast food to lingerie. Since the debut of personal communications services, talk is cheap and getting cheaper. PCS has been on the market for under a year, and already there is evidence it's changing the way Americans are using their mobile phones.

So says PrimeCo Personal Communications L.P., the first-to-market PCS player that recently commissioned "America Unwired," a survey conducted to confirm PrimeCo's own early findings: PCS subscribers are using their phones more often and in more diverse ways than traditional cellular users.

It isn't hard to sell the value of wireless communications. In fact, 50 million people have adopted it in little over a decade. It took 77 years to reach that number on the landline side. But what has been needed is a way to make wireless communications affordable for everyday use.

PCS delivered the needed technical breakthrough - high-speed digital transmission technology that makes it possible for nearly 10 times more calls to travel over a wireless network. Fierce competition is taking care of the rest. The big winners are consumers who are grabbing the chance to gab on the go.

According to data gathered through the "America Unwired" survey, PCS consumers are making and breaking dates, making plans with family and friends, but mostly just making good use of time. In fact, for what is believed to be the first time in the history of wireless communications, consumers cited the No. 1 reason they bought a mobile phone was to "make their lives easier." That's a major shift in attitude from traditional cellular users who say safety and security is their primary motivating factor. That difference in attitude is worth noting because it explains why PCS subscribers talk more than traditional wireless subscribers.

Nearly three times more if PrimeCo's numbers are any indication of overall PCS usage patterns.

Not only are PCS consumers talking on their phones more, they apparently don't leave home without them. They take them to the gym, the beach, the beauty shop, on hunting and fishing trips, even to church. In fact, several survey respondents said having their phones ring in church ranked among their most embarrassing "wireless" moments.

Hectic lives seem to be at the heart of the wireless trend. More demanding jobs, lack of leisure time, the need to juggle personal and professional lives were a familiar litany among survey respondents who said wireless helped them manage their time more efficiently. More than nine percent said their wireless phone helped increase what they got done in the course of the day, while almost 14 percent said they're using it to stay in touch with family and friends.

Interestingly, busy as they are, PCS consumers still find time to volunteer. Some 10 percent of the respondents reported they are using their phones to accomplish some sort of work for charity's sake.

But if this survey is any indication, PCS consumers are not falling into the all work no play syndrome. They use their PCS phone to signal "surprise" for a party. They use the phone to make their friends jealous about the front-row tickets they've scored, brag to buddies about the sporting event they're attending, and, hate to admit it, to impress someone in a nearby car.

How they're using the phone says a lot about how they're spending time, too. PCS consumers are making appointments with personal trainers, manicurists and hair stylists. They're reserving everything from tennis courts to tee times to theater tickets. Playful, braggadocios, active and, apparently, resourceful. One hunter reported calling a local store from his duck blind to see if they carried thermal underwear.

Wireless communication appears to be rapidly integrating into America's favorite pastime, shopping. PCS subscribers are using their phones to avoid forgetting anything at the grocery store, to confer about available videos, to make sure the size is right before buying an item, to get the word out about a hot sale and to discreetly double check the bank balance.

Surprisingly, more men than women seem to "run the numbers" before making that gotta-have purchase. Women, on the other hand, have the stronghold on making appointments. Whether it's to reach the hairstylist, the babysitter, or dog groomer, women use their PCS phones significantly more than men.

If industry visionaries are right, half of all Americans will use wireless communications by the year 2005. Obviously, PCS is in its infancy, and it's too soon to pronounce a trend from a trickle of data. But if early reports from the wireless frontier are any indication of what's to come, Americans are destined to "walk the talk."

PrimeCo commissioned the "America Unwired" study to statistically affirm its opinion that PCS is changing the landscape of the wireless industry. DSS Research, a 20-year-old marketing research firm, conducted telephone interviews with 929 wireless customers in 17 major cities between May 27 and June 19, 1997. The survey has a possible sampling error of plus or minus 3.2 percent which constitutes a 95 percent confidence level. All data was analyzed through testing and cross-tabulation software to determine specific statistical differences among the results and to prove developing trends.

PrimeCo Personal Communications provides digital wireless service in 19 major cities: Norfolk and Richmond, Va.; Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa, Fla.; Chicago; Madison and Milwaukee, Wis.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans; Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, Texas; Honolulu and Maui, Hawaii. The company, which was formed by an alliance of AirTouch Communications, Bell Atlantic, NYNEX and U S WEST Media Group, owns PCS licenses covering 19 states and 61 million potential customers in 11 MTAs and has more than 2,800 employees. PrimeCo sells its phones and service through its own direct sales force, the company's 44 stores, more than 2,000 indirect retail outlets and a toll-free telephone sales line. The address for PrimeCo's interactive Website is www.primeco.com.