Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems, the cellular arm of Bell Atlantic Corp., said yesterday it has placed orders for 40,000 cellular phones that can handle both analog and digital signals, making it one of the first cellular operators in the country to move ahead with the dual-use phones.
The new phones are in use experimentally in a few markets but are not commercially available.
The phones are designed to switch easily between traditional analog signals and digital signals, which use a newer technology to transmit communications. The company said the ability to switch between the two signals would enable the phone system to find a digital channel, which would allow better reception and a greater number of calls to be transmitted.
Karen Ann Kurlander, a Bell Atlantic spokeswoman, said she did not know how much Bell Atlantic planned to charge for the new phones.
But industry estimates say the new phones will be considerably more expensive than their analog cousins, leading some to question whether consumers will be beating down the doors to buy them once they hit the retail shelves.
Herschel Shosteck, a cellular industry analyst, predicted that the new phones would cost $650 to $1,000 when they hit the market as early as this summer. Analog phones cost $100 to $400.
But it remains to be seen whether the improvements offered by the phones will be enough to persuade consumers to shell out hundreds of extra dollars to replace their older models, Mr. Shosteck said.
He said he questioned whether demand would materialize at all since cellular operators, including Bell Atlantic, have made it clear that they intend to keep their systems analog-compatible for decades to come.
"Why pay for a dual-use phone when it's something you really don't need?," Mr. Shosteck said.