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7-Eleven Launches Enhanced Prepaid Cell Phone Service in New England

BOSTON -- 7-Eleven Inc., the convenience store chain that launched its own prepaid cell phone brand last spring, is rolling out two big enhancements this week in New England markets: premium handsets with cameras and FM radios, and minutes that don't expire for a full year, reported the Boston Globe.

7-Eleven's moves are likely to crank up competition in the fast-growing U.S. market for prepaid wireless calling plans, which Boston market consultant The Yankee Group expects to grow from 18 million subscribers at the end of this year to over 24 million by 2007. Key drivers include parents looking for cost-capped phones for their children, and people of all ages looking to control wireless spending.

7-Eleven, whose services use Cingular's network, had been offering minutes that expire after 120 days. After getting 50 minutes with the phone, subscribers have to buy additional minutes in increments of $25 for 500 minutes.

"Customers told us they wanted some better choices," said Kevin Cooper, manager of the 7-Eleven wireless program. "They wanted the latest and greatest with a straightforward billing plan." 7-Eleven has not released any data on how many customers have signed up for Speak Out, but Cooper said that ''Boston is one of the best markets in the country" for adoption of the service.

The three new phones coming to the 166 7-Eleven stores in southern New England include a $110 Nokia 3200 with a camera, FM radio and flashlight; an $85 Nokia 3100 with a color screen that can be loaded with photos and graphics; and a $50 Nokia 3595 that offers voice dialing for 14 numbers and color graphics. All prices are after a $50 rebate.

Currently, Speak Out customers cannot transmit photos from the phone to other phones or e-mail accounts, but they can take pictures of family members and friends and link them to their phone numbers to create a ''photo caller ID" that flashes the picture of the person making an incoming call.
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