This week, SBC Wireless introduced its first nationwide rate plan with no charges for long-distance calls or calls made from outside a customer's main calling area.
Rate plans start at $25 for 75 minutes a month and range to $150 for 1,500 minutes.
The flat-rate plan is intended to attract new customers and keep current subscribers from defecting to other mobile phone companies.
"Almost half of customers who want to upgrade service say this kind of plan is important to them," said Virginia Vann, vice president of strategic marketing for the company, a Dallas-based subsidiary of San Antonio-based SBC Communications Inc.
Other carriers have offered flat-rate plans for months. Ms. Vann said SBC's lowest price could attract customers who haven't had wireless phones before. AT&T's lowest rate, by contrast, is $60 for 300 minutes (plus an extra 200 minutes for the first six months).
SBC is trying to capitalize on its broad footprint, but because it operates under seven regional brands, customers don't always realize how large it is. "People don't think of us as the second-largest wireless carrier," Ms. Vann said.
That will change in the coming months, as SBC combines its mobile phone operations with those of Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp. The companies are expected to name a chief executive and a headquarters city for the combined venture in the next month or two, and a unified brand will follow.
SBC's agreement with BellSouth cut its wholesale costs when customers roam through its partner's territory. The company is also converting some markets that use a different kind of wireless technology to make them more compatible with SBC's other markets. That conversion is scheduled to be complete this year.
Coming soon, Ms. Vann said, is wireless Internet access over SBC Wireless phones. The company already offers some information services, but they must be preset and aren't accessible on demand, she said.
"You'll see a lot from us in the next few months in data," she said.