April 3, 2000
Countrywide turns to AT&T service to let agents spend time landing customers, not data
By Bob Wallace
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The key to this more-affordable instant-access service is AT&T's offer of unlimited per-subscriber usage of its PocketNet service priced at $14.99 a month per user for customers signing on for one of AT&T's voice-calling plans that start at $49.99 a month per user. "Pricing was a major factor, because once our business partners heard about the flat rate, they started asking us for applications they could use with the mobile phones," says Brian Ruggiero, first VP of the Calabasas, Calif., company's E-business division. The 10,000 real-estate brokers and 100,000 real-estate agents that work with Countrywide want mobile wireless access to apps containing up-to-date information on loan rates and status.
AT&T expects the unlimited-use pricing scheme to be popular. "The only way the wireless data market is going to grow is through unlimited usage pricing," says Kendra VanderMullen, senior VP of product strategy and development at AT&T's wireless group.
AT&T's PocketNet service carries data traffic at up to 19.2 Kbps over its Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) network, which covers roughly 3,000 U.S. cities. The service is designed to work with new, large-display, $199 Mitsubishi T250 phones. In two years, Countrywide expects about a quarter of its 10,000 brokers will be using the AT&T service to access the wireless applications. "That would be a very deep penetration for us," Ruggiero says.
Some wireless analysts warn IT managers that the CDPD network maximum speed of 19.2 Kbps means sending data other than text to mobile users would hurt application performance. "You don't want bandwidth-intensive content such as graphics and charts over these wireless links," says Craig Mathias, a principal analyst at FarPoint Group. But Ruggiero isn't concerned about speed limitations. "Network bandwidth shouldn't be a problem, as Countrywide is only letting partners access text content," he says.
More than a year ago, Countrywide started a small trial in which participants used pagers. But Ruggiero says the high price of pagers--nearly $300 apiece--users' reluctance to carry them, and expensive per-character service pricing persuaded it to examine other wireless options.
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