- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

Cell phones, once considered annoying to many, have undergone an image transformation since the tragedies that occurred on Sept. 11. Now, more than ever, they are life-savers and family connectors.

But it is not clear if the terrorist attacks will have a major impact on cell phones sales, despite relentless media reports of victims and their loved ones desperately trying to make contact with cell phones.

A number of area stores report a modest increase in cell phone interest after the attacks. One technology industry analyst predicts an increase in sales, even though many believe the market is already saturated. In other words, most of the people who want a cell phone already have one.

Roger Entner, program manager for the Yankee Group, a Boston technology consulting firm, says he expects a higher increase in sales, from 118 million at the end of July to about 125 to 130 million for the end of the year.

A study conducted last year by the Yankee Group said about 40 percent of all cell phone users bought their phones for safety purposes. While no immediate data are available to track cell phone purchases since Sept. 11.

"We expect the increased safety concerns to boost the numbers," Mr. Entner says.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) says there are currently about 122 million cell phone subscribers in the United States.

But the increase in cell phone purchases will be slight, and not very significant at the end of the quarter, says Larry Swasey, vice president of communications research for Allied Business Intelligence.

"Most people who think of the cell phone as a safety tool already own one," he says. "The message the cell phone industry put out that 'you need a cell phone' might convert a very few number of people who were sitting on the fence."

Mr. Swasey also points out that many people affected by the New York City attack were unable to use their cell phones, opting for the "good old pay phone."

Mr. Swasey says sales of cell phones would vary from region to region. "The Northeast was the most affected. But if you're living in Nebraska or Ohio, you probably won't be buying a cell phone as a result of what happened in New York."

Spokespeople for wireless companies don't have exact sales numbers, but many are anticipating that people will have a heightened interest, at the very least, in purchasing cell phones.

"Throughout late last week and early this week, there's been a rise in sales," says Alexa Graf, spokeswoman for AT&T; Wireless. "People with cell phones are buying extra batteries and chargers, or first-time customers are coming in to get phones, but over the past couple of days it's been hard to say exactly how many we've had."

John Johnson, spokesman for Verizon's Baltimore/Washington/Virginia division, says there has been a "slight increase" in the number of cell phones bought in the Northeast area, which includes Virginia and New York.

Mr. Johnson believes people are now looking at cell phones in a different light.

"I don't think there's really a change in the way it's been used," he says. "The most visible just didn't use the best etiquette." Mr. Johnson says that prior to the terrorist attacks, an average of 140,000 calls per day were being made to emergency rescue services via cell phones.

"The life-saving role hasn't changed. The perception of the phone has. Just look at these terrible events. People on these planes were able to give their families information, and people were getting out of Lower Manhattan, saying 'I'm OK, I'm out.' "

"Only time can tell, once the cell phone has shown itself to be a critical communications tool in the most horrible way," he says. "I'm just grateful the people affected had the ability to say goodbye or 'I'm OK.' "

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