Omnitel Signs Three Millionth Customer in 27 Months

PHILADELPHIA — Italian wireless startup Omnitel Pronto Italia continues to build a globe-leading operation, announcing today it added more than 500,000 customers since the start of 1998, and more than three million customers since beginning service 27 months ago. Bell Atlantic's Italian wireless investment said it closed out its 1997 fiscal year with US$1.07 billion in revenues, a more than 140 percent increase over yearend 1996.

The company became profitable in the second half of 1997, improving first semester results to end the full year with only a US$82 million loss. Omnitel posted a US$383 million loss in 1996.

The company says the trend is continuing this year and that Omnitel should show significant profitability in 1998.

"Omnitel has developed a one-two punch of customer value and company profitability," said Tom Bartlett, president and CEO of Bell Atlantic International Wireless. "The convenience and savings of both Calling Party Pays and prepaid service are a hit with customers, and the low acquisition costs that result are a knockout for the business." Omnitel closed 1997 having boosted its market share to 33 percent of all new cellular subscribers, including adding 40 percent of all new customers during the fourth quarter alone. Total market share grew to more than 20 percent during 1997. Results from the first few months of 1998 confirm a continuing upward trend in market share for Omnitel. During 1997, Omnitel invested more than US$400 million in its networks, bringing the company's overall investment to more than US$2.25 billion since 1994.

Network deployment accelerated through 1997, extending coverage to 83 percent of Italy with 2,440 transmission sites. At the beginning of March 1998, coverage reached 85 percent of the territory and 98 percent of the population.

Early in 1997, Omnitel received the Teleperformance Gold award for quality in customer care. Omnitel was the only telecommunications provider in Europe to receive the honor.

Late in 1997, the company was recognized by Project Finance International with "Deal of the Year" honors for its US$1.64 billion financing.

Omnitel also led the Italian market with unique services and pricing during 1997. The company recently introduced a service that makes international calling competitive with landline phone service. The introduction of rechargeable prepaid calling cards now allows customers to track their usage in real time using the phone's built-in screen. And the company's zone-priced "City" plan offers valuable savings for calls made inside a preset city area.

Bell Atlantic is the second largest shareholder in Omnitel Pronto Italia with a 17.4 percent interest.

Bell Atlantic - formed through the merger of Bell Atlantic and NYNEX - is at the forefront of the new communications and information industry. With 40.5 million telephone access lines and six million wireless customers worldwide, Bell Atlantic companies are premier providers of advanced wireline voice and data services, market leaders in wireless services and the world's largest publishers of directory information. Bell Atlantic companies are also among the world's largest investors in high-growth global communications markets, with operations and investments in 21 countries.