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Archive for Monday, October 26, 1992

THE LATEST INVALUABLE TOOL FOR BUSINESS

October 26, 1992

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Garth Terlizzi took a nasty spill while riding his bike the other day. He was reaching for his cellular phone.

"I keep the phone down where they put the water bottle. I went for the phone just as I hit a patch of gravel," he said.

Days later, he is back on his bike and the phone, huffing and puffing over the whir of his wheels.

"I'm in the investment business," he inhales "and a lot of things change at a moment's notice," he said. "It helps me keep track of things."

An investment broker for Linsco/Private Ledger, Terlizzi is one of a growing herd of local professionals scratching their heads, trying to remember how they ever did business without cellulars.

"It's just much more efficient," he said. "During market hours, I probably am on the phone 60 percent of the time. This way I don't have to be tied to my desk."

Cellular sales are soaring in Lawrence, sales people say, despite often costly service charges and privacy problems that come with cellular radio signals.

"(Sales) have increased steadily every year, and business has gotten a lot busier in the last year," said Phil Viner, senior account executive for Cellular One in Lawrence.

"REMEMBER when VCRs started dropping in price to about $200, which is about how much they cost to make? We're getting to the point where cellulars are selling at the cost to make them," he said.

Lower prices are making them more palatable to all kinds of business people for all kinds of uses.

"The client once was typically male, 46 and up, and more affluent," said Mary A. Campbell, manager-market development for Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems' midwest region.

"Now it's much more diverse. Housewives are buying them. Truckers and people who are on the road a lot use them for safety. Attorneys use them in the court room if they need information from the office."

Roger Pine can plug a cellular into the cigarette lighter notch in his potato combine.

"They allow me to make timely calls when I'm busy working in the fields or when I'm out in the fields and I need to make a repair," said Pine, co-owner of Pine Family Farms.

"ON SEVERAL occasions when we've had a breakdown in the fields, I can get out and look at it, and call up the parts shop on the phone, get the part ordered and have someone pick it up," he said. "It saves us some down time.

"I know they are fairly expensive, but I believe that they are worth the money."

Cellular users first pay a price for the phone itself. Phones installed in cars cost about $249, Viner said. Transportable phones that can be plugged into power sources run $229 and up. Hand-held, battery-powered models cost $299 and up.

Cellular owners then pay for airtime, signing onto programs similar to those offered by long distance companies a flat fee for a certain number of minutes of use at certain times, and then extra for additional minutes. Programs run from about $20 on up.

TERLIZZI'S monthly bills for his three cellulars usually run around $550, with a recent high of about $860. It's worth it, he said.

"If I'm tracking 10,000 shares of a stock and it loses 1 point, that's $10,000. If something goes wrong, I'm in a position to do something about it," he said.

Joe Thelen, managing broker for Gill Real Estate, grouses about his cellular bills but still can see clear to the benefit.

"Every time you pick up that receiver it costs you dollars. But a single transaction for me can make up for the $1,400 (a year) like that," he said.

Thelen has used a cellular for seven years. It is invaluable in the real estate business, where quick reactions and personal contact are all important.

"In the past, I'd be driving along with a prospect and we'll see a `For Sale' sign in front of a house," he said. "I can use my cellular phone to call the Realtor right there and find out what is going on with the house.

"IT IS SO important to stay in touch with clients. All real estate is is is keeping up relationships with people, and the cellular helps you stay in touch."

Cellulars also help one manage personal relationships.

"There is one study that shows they help your social relationships," Campbell said.

"Say you are late for dinner. You can call from the road and say, `Honey, I'm going to be late.' It takes the stress out of a relationship," she said.

But be careful what you say over the cellular, industry experts say. Calls are transmitted over radio waves in the 800 megahertz frequency, which certain radio scanners can pick up.

"It is very easy to listen in on snippets of conversation," said Norman Black, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunication Industry Assn.

"There is a privacy problem involving a very small group of technocreeps who think it's funny to invade people's privacy as a hobby," he said.

A BILL recently passed by Congress and now on the president's desk would outlaw sale of such scanners, Black said.

"The next and the broader step is to take advantage of some changes coming technologically," such as converting cellular radio signals into digital data for transmission, he said.

In fact, the uses for celluar technology are almost limitless, Campbell said.

"You could have a doctor with a patient in the middle of the country, too far away from a hospital, who could consult with another doctor through video conferencing," she said.

"Maybe somebody from the Mayo Clinic could direct a doctor in Topeka," she said. "You remember the Dick Tracy (wrist-TV) watch? The possibilities are there for that kind of technology."

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