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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2002

18 percent say cell is their No. 1 phone

By Michelle Kessler
USA Today

More and more U.S. cell phone owners consider their cell phones to be their No. 1 phone — almost one in five, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll.

In five to 10 years, "The vast majority of us are going to be using wireless phones as our main phones,'' said telecom analyst Jeff Kagan.

Eighteen percent of 625 cell phone owners polled said they use their cell phone as their primary phone. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. Market researchers back it up. Forrester Research estimates that nearly 5 million U.S. households by 2006 will not rely on their home phone as their No. 1 communication device — costing today's telecom giants nearly $9 billion in revenue.

Customers like Warren Goff are behind the change. Goff, a 70-year-old lawyer from Memphis, Tenn., hasn't abandoned his regular home phones. He uses them to receive faxes and connect to the Internet. But he relies on cell phones for almost all calls. He regularly talks on his cell phone for more than 1,500 minutes a month — with a little help from his wife.

"As a lawyer, it's an absolute necessity that I be in contact at all times,'' Goff said. Plus, he said it's cheaper, for him, than his regular long-distance service would be.

The Federal Communications Commission, recognizing the growing popularity of cell phones, is pushing wireless carriers to install features common on regular phones, such as a 911 system that automatically sends a caller's location to police and fire departments.

Also in the works: a system that will allow federal wiretappers to listen to cell phone conversations. The FCC is also pushing for a change that would let customers keep their cell phone numbers when they switch carriers.

Many of these advances are years away, however. Wireless companies object to many of them —mainly because they're expensive.

What's more, cell phones have other drawbacks: spotty service, dropped calls and overburdened networks that sometimes make calls impossible.

Most people won't rely on cell phones as their primary phones "until we see quality of service begin to match,'' regular phones, said Chris Murray, telecom expert for the Consumers Union, an advocacy group.

Goff said service problems are so bad that he has four cell phones from different providers.

Heather Sharpe, 25, has just one, but also rarely uses her regular phone.

Sharpe, 25, of Highland, Calif., bought her cell phone for emergencies. She now relies on it because of the convenience and cost.

"I feel very naked without it,'' she said.