Pocket phones get a mixed report card


The good news is that the pocket-sized phones work as promised, delivering crystal-clear communications from places where regular cellular phones wouldn't dare tread. The bad news is that they fall short in their reach and technology.

That was the word yesterday from American Personal Communications, a Baltimore-based cellular company, which released its first marketing study showing results of its twin trials of a new phone technology.

APC has set up experimental phone networks in downtown Baltimore and Washington that allow customers to use pocket-sized phones to place calls from virtually anywhere. The networks, known as personal communication networks, are basically miniature cellular systems that deliver communication connections far superior to conventional cellular hookups.

According to marketing data released yesterday by APC, the limited reach of the experimental systems -- a few blocks in each city -- was a big drawback for customers. And while customers liked the portability of the phones, they didn't like the fact that they could place calls only from a stationary position. The phones could not receive calls.

Despite early predictions that customers would use the phones liberally for downtown calling, the average customer used the APC system for only 28 minutes in March, the latest month for which data were available. During March, customers used the phones to place an average of a dozen calls each.

Albert Grimes, APC's president, said the results weren't surprising.

"We knew that people wanted more technology," he said. "The good news is that the technology required is only a year away."

Mr. Grimes said data showed that customers would buy a personal communication network service once a few issues, such as two-way calling, have been addressed.

Herschel Shosteck of Herschel Shosteck & Assoc., a Bethesda-based cellular consultancy, disagreed. He noted that APC's inability to attract,as promised, 200 subscribers to test the experimental service was one indication of lack of public demand for personal communication network-type services.

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