How flat-rate pricing changes the future of cellular

People of a certain age may remember typical long-distance calling rates of dollars per minute. In the past couple of decades, however, long-distance rates have dropped to pennies per minute.

Recently announced flat-rate cellular calling plans will lead to similarly dramatic changes for wireless customers, many believe. AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile last week announced unlimited calling plans for about US$100. Sprint Nextel Corp. has yet to respond.

"Initially, there won't be much impact," said Tole Hart, an analyst at Gartner Inc. "But we're just seeing the beginning." Hart and others predict that flat-rate cellular pricing will launch at least four crucial trends that will have a strong impact on all cellular subscribers.

Trend 1: Lower prices

For now, flat-rate cellular plans for $100 per month will only affect a handful of users, experts agreed.

"There aren't many customers at the $100 level," Hart said. "It won't impact family plans, which is about 50% of all subscribers. And it won't impact the corporate market because most companies aren't paying $100."

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