Meanwhile, text-messaging capabilities are expanding. "Smart phones," which combine organizer functions similar to PDA features with voice capabilities and more, continue to grow market share. Hewlett-Packard Co., for example, recently said it will make a PDA that will include a cell phone. And makers are rushing to pump out cell phones that make typing easier by adopting QWERTY keyboards as an alternative to the phone keypad. Nokia's 6820, for example, offers a fold-out keyboard, and Motorola offers a cell phone that opens into a "mini-laptop," through Cingular.
Calling plans also are aggressively courting Hispanics and other consumers with variety and options. Last month, Sprint PCS introduced a $4 per month wireless international calling plan that allows users to place calls from the United States to Mexico over its network at a rate of nine cents a minute. AT&T Wireless offers its WorldConnect Mexico plan that – for $4.99 per month – not only puts the U.S.-to-Mexico rate at nine cents per minute but also allows roaming on calls placed from within Mexico to the United States for 69 cents a minute. And Verizon Wireless has a North America Choice plan that treats calls to and from parts of Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico the same as it does calls across town, starting at $60 for a 400-minute monthly plan.
"With a lot of the traditional calling plans that most carriers have, when you go into a market such as Baja California or the state of Chihuahua, you're roaming on those carriers' networks, paying daily access fees and roaming charges," says Oscar Madrid, head of multicultural marketing for the Western region at Verizon Wireless. "We created a partnership with carriers in Mexico. Just using the minutes that already accompany the plans saves the hassle of having to roam."
Records 15-second videos that can be sent to other video-phone users, stored on the Internet, or sent to a computer. Includes a built-in VGA camera. Images can be saved to the phone as screen savers or caller ID images.
The fact that three of the largest players in the wireless communications business would put together such packages speaks volumes about the power that the Hispanic market has begun to wield. According to Scarborough Research, Hispanics spend more per month on cellular phone service – about $67 per household, compared with $62 per household for the general market – and account for more than 10 percent of total monthly spending on cell phone services in the United States.
"If there was ever a perception that the Hispanic market is not spending as much on telecommunications, that myth is broken," says Scarborough's Ms. Joseph. "It's not only a growing customer base but one that's very profitable. These are the folks that will spend the largest amounts on calling plans."
Jon Fernandez, owner of TriNet Communications in Livermore, California, is among the hundreds of thousands of companies that have embraced wireless phones as part of corporate culture. Mr. Fernandez says he has about 20 phones on his company account – mostly for a sales staff that travels the country and needs to stay in touch with one another.
"It's almost like you can't imagine not having a cell phone," he says.
A revamped version – called the Nokia N-Gage QD – is a combination mobile phone and video game system that hit the market this summer. The system no longer includes the MP3 player included in the previous version. Allows other N-Gage gamers to play against each other over a Bluetooth wireless connection.
Sam Diaz is a reporter at The San Jose Mercury News.
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