- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

The telephone jack in Erin Hammers' D.C. apartment broke about a year ago. She never bothered to have it fixed. Instead, Miss Hammers, a 25-year-old field organizer for a political action group, simply started using her cellular phone as her primary phone. She pays about $50 a month for cellular service, and even though her bill skyrockets when she makes a lot of long-distance calls, she doesn't regret her decision.

"I don't want to pay as much as $25 a month just to have [land-line] service when I didn't use it that often to begin with," Miss Hammers said.

A growing number of Americans like Miss Hammers are making their cell phones their primary phones.

Three percent of all cell-phone users in the United States do not have a traditional land-line phone for personal use, according to a study by the Yankee Group, an independent technology-research firm in Boston. That figure could triple in five years, the study said.

Other research suggests the number of consumers who use cell phones as their primary phones is higher. Research by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, a trade group for wireless-phone companies, indicates as many as 5 percent of all cell-phone users do not have traditional land-line phones for personal use.

"A growing number of people have cut the cord completely. They have replaced their land-line phones with one or more mobile phones, which they use as their primary method of calling," said Keith Mallinson, the analyst who wrote the Yankee Group's report.

Cost isn't the only reason consumers make the switch. Some simply like the convenience and portability of mobile phones, the studies say.

Since Miss Hammers and her roommates in Adams Morgan have their own cell-phones now, they no longer have to worry about splitting the cost of their land-line service.

"It's one less bill for us to pay," Miss Hammers said.

Telephone users should consider their options carefully before switching from traditional phones to cell phones, say representatives for the Consumers Union, a nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Reports magazine.

"There's no question that cell-phone prices have come down and the technology has improved, but whether or not you'll save money depends on how you use it," said spokesman David Butler.

The typical consumer uses 1,500 minutes of local calling time a month on a traditional telephone, said Chris Murray, Internet and telecommunications counsel for the Consumers Union. Many wireless-phone companies offer between 3,000 and 5,000 minutes of "free" minutes, but customers are limited to using them on weeknights and weekends, he said.

"If you do most of your calling late at night and on weekends, then it might make sense to consider a cell phone as a primary phone," Mr. Murray said.

Some companies are targeting consumers making the switch.

Leap Wireless International Inc., a San Diego company, operates a service called Cricket Communications that features unlimited flat-rate local calling, no roaming fees and no charge for incoming calls. It has almost 1.5 million customers in 20 states, but is not available in the Washington area.

Eighty percent of Cricket customers say their cell phone is their primary phone, and 26 percent do not have a traditional phone at all, said Harvey P. White, chairman and chief executive of Leap Wireless.

"Since we don't charge for incoming calls, people tend to feel more comfortable giving out their phone number. They're finding that if more people call them on their Cricket phone, that's the number they give to them," Mr. White said.

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