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AT&T Cell-Phone Brand Will Live On

AT&T, AT&T Wireless, and Cingular unveiled a road map for their complicated branding and provisioning agreement.

Enterprise customers doing cell-phone business with the confusing mix of AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, and AT&T now have a future roadmap, after the three companies revealed the details of their branding and provisioning agreement.

Cingular is in the process of acquiring AT&T Wireless, and AT&T has taken steps to offer cell-phone service under its own name. AT&T spun off AT&T Wireless several years ago.

"The enterprise customer base has understandably been confused," said Michael Voellinger, director of wireless services at Telwares Communications, in an interview. "The question at cell-phone RFPs [requests for proposals] is always: 'What about the merger?' We now have some clarity." He indicated that the branding agreement will facilitate the signing of enterprise contracts.

Essentially, the agreement calls for the Cingular brand to stand after AT&T Wireless is merged into Cingular. Cingular and AT&T will be able to use the AT&T brand for six months after Cingular's acquisition of AT&T Wireless is accomplished later this year. AT&T, which has an agreement with Sprint to offer the latter's cell service, would then be able to retain the AT&T brand.

The agreement also calls for AT&T to provide the combined Cingular-AT&T Wireless "with international long-distance, private-line services, and corporate telecommunications services." This part of the agreement represents a $100 million commitment to AT&T, the companies said.

While the AT&T brand is one of the most coveted names in business, AT&T Wireless has consistently fared poorly in polls measuring service satisfaction.

"The perception of poor [cell-phone] service can be overcome," said Voellinger. "It usually takes six to nine months, though." Voellinger, whose telephony consultancy addresses large businesses, said network and service quality measures are becoming more important to enterprise network users. "There's a much larger focus on network quality now," he said, "and it's equal to pricing concerns."

He said enterprise customers want to know what the topology of the combined Cingular-AT&T Wireless network will be. They're interested in fixing outages and blocked calls and generally in obtaining better service. He noted that enterprise customers across-the-board are increasingly writing penalty clauses into contracts to be implemented when service fails.

Voellinger noted that all the customers he deals with have been looking for clarification of the Cingular-AT&T Wireless merger. "Everybody wants to move forward with this merger," he said.

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