Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. wireless telephone company, said Wednesday it is testing a new service that will allow customers to use cash machines to add more minutes to their prepaid wireless cards. Prepaid customers pay in advance for a bucket of minutes instead of subscribing to a service plan.
Under the new service, customers will be able to add minutes to their service at independent ATM cash machines in convenience stores, gas stations and other locations.
Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications and Britain’s Vodafone, said it was testing the service in St. Louis and plans to begin testing it in Boston at the end of the month. It plans to offer the service nationwide in early 2003.
“Our goal is to give customers as many options as we can (in refilling minutes),” Brenda Raney, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman, said. Verizon Wireless is addressing a frequent complaint among prepaid customers regarding the difficulty of adding minutes.
While many wireless operators including Verizon Wireless already offer the ability to add minutes at their stores, via telephone or on the Web, some analysts believe it must become easier for customers to fill their minutes in order for prepaid service to succeed.
Prepaid wireless services are typically aimed at youths, consumers who cannot afford wireless subscriptions, and those who may not want to commit to a monthly plan.
Expanding prepaid services is seen as one way the wireless industry can increase customer growth now that 50 percent of Americans own cell phones and it has become harder to add customers.
Verizon Wireless said the new service will allow customers to refill minutes by swiping a credit card on the machine, entering their wireless phone number and selecting the replenishment amount.
The screen will also display the remaining account balance.
Customers can use MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover credit cards, and cash machines with the ability to replenish minutes can be identified by a screensaver message and a Verizon Wireless logo, it said. The service is being tested in partnership with Boston Communications Group Inc. , a provider of billing and customer care services.