Company seeking people to test 'phone of the future'


You've read about them, now here's your chance to try one out firsthand: Baltimore-based American Personal Communications is looking for 100 Baltimoreans to try out a new, pocket-sized cordless phone as part of a public trial aimed at building the telephone system of the future.

"Basically, it's going to be the phone of the future," said Albert Grimes, APC's president.

APC plans to launch twin trials, in Washington and in Baltimore, in August, Mr. Grimes said. As part of the trial process, APC is looking for about 350 participants -- 100 from Baltimore and 250 from Washington -- to try out the phones.

According to Mr. Grimes, feedback from participants in the trial will be influential in the final design of a new-age "personal communications network" (PCN) that APC plans to start building in Washington later this year. APC has teamed with the Washington Post Co., publisher of the Washington Post, for that project.

There are currently no PCNs in the United States, though the Federal Communications Commission has granted licenses to about 50 companies to build them.

PCNs have been used for several years in Europe.

PCNs work much like cellular systems, but on a smaller scale: Using small, pocket-sized phones that act like portable pay phones, PCNs allow users to place calls while inside buildings, on elevators or while walking down the street. PCNs are designed for use within a defined urban area, unlike cellular systems, which permit users to maintain mobile communication while traveling great distances.

Cellular services typically cost $1 or more a minute. PCN prices are about one-third as expensive.

Participants in APC's trial will pay $5 a month to rent a PCN phone, which weighs about 4 ounces and fits comfortably inside a shirt pocket. Participants also will pay $15 a month for service and 13 cents a minute for calls.

The service will permit users to place calls but not receive them. However, a paging service can be purchased for an additional $7 a month.

In Baltimore, PCN coverage will be limited to portions of the Inner Harbor and the surrounding business district.

In the Washington area, coverage will include sections of the K Street business district and Capitol Hill, as well as National and Dulles airports.

The APC trial will last for one year, though participants don't have to commit to the entire period, Mr. Grimes said. He said people can stay on for just a few months, if they choose.

People interested in participating in the trial may call 1-800-TALK-APC for further information.

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