Rome, Italy — Bell Atlantic's Italian wireless operator Omnitel announced today it ended 1999 with a record increase in customers, adding 4.22 million new subscribers for the year and closing just over four years of operation with 10,418,321 customers. Subscriber growth was up 68% compared with 1998.
"As in our other international operations, network and customer care performance levels, innovative services, and strong management team were key drivers in Omnitel's incredible growth," said Bell Atlantic International Wireless President and CEO Tom Bartlett. "New wireless data, Internet access, and e-commerce services will continue to position Omnitel to capture additional growth in the Italian marketplace for 2000 and beyond."
Bell Atlantic is a founding partner and 23.1% shareholder in Omnitel.
"Our strategies to ensure 'second-to-none' network performance and customer care have helped Omnitel achieve industry-leading levels including churn rates of just over 10 percent annually," said Bartlett.
On New Year's Eve, from 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., Omnitel successfully processed 35 million voice calls and six million SMS (Short Message Service) calls. On New Years Day the Omnitel network processed 100 million voice calls and 18 million SMSs.
During 1999 Bell Atlantic's Omnitel operation introduced a variety of new Internet and data services. Omnitel2000 - the Internet portal that allows customers to navigate services using natural-voice-recognition technology - continued to expand its offerings in the fourth quarter. To date, the "2000 Shop Centre" on-line mall includes more than 100 companies. Omnitel's on-line wireless shop "Spazio Omnitel" had revenues of 4 billion lire in its first 6 months and 1 billion lire during Christmas.
Rapid acceptance of the Internet and low PC penetration in Italy is expected to facilitate the development of this wireless on-line entertainment and shopping segment. Omnitel's strategy will include the development of unique wireless services such as "T-Mails" (an advanced version of SMS), Web navigation, on-line purchasing, as well as entertainment, interactive games, and music.
Omnitel is also expanding its next-generation UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System) wireless system, based on the new international digital wireless standard. The experimental UMTS network is already active in Turin which, with 11 base stations, represents Europe's largest such operation.
Omnitel Pronto Italia's significant shareholders include Bell Atlantic, Mannesmann, and Vodafone AirTouch.