Hello? Hello?

Overloaded Networks Leave Cell-Phone Customers on Hold

Now here's a scary thought: Most cellular companies seem to give their customers headaches. In New York, Bell Atlantic seems to be better than AT&T, according to various people who have tried both, as well as a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. But if you want national, not regional service, says David Kerr, an industry analyst with the consulting firm Strategy Analytics, "there is really only Sprint and AT&T. And AT&T still has superior service and is still tops."

For those who want vengeance, the opportunity could come in the form of a possible whopper-merger between Europe's Vodafone, Bell Atlantic, AirTouch, and perhaps GTE. That behemoth would start out with 22 million subscribers—almost double what AT&T now has—and would be able to offer a bigger national network to boot.

But for now, a lot of cell-phone users feel like former $2700-a-year AT&T customer Rod Collen of Seattle, who isn't much happier with his new carrier, Sprint. "I have become so totally frustrated with cellular service that I am afraid to give out my number. All too often my typical cell calls go something like, 'Yeah, I . . . go . . . up . . . er . . . in the . . . uh.' And all I hear on the other end is, 'Hello, Rod? Can you hear me? What? You are cutting out . . . call me on a land line—click.' And so I do.

"Well, I have concluded the obvious: that the phone companies are dealing with yet another capacity problem. Yet they of course have no problem charging me regularly—that system is pretty much flawless."

Research intern: Elinore Longobardi

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