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AT&T Announces Long-Distance Enhancement

July 13, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ AT&T’s latest shot in the long distance war has nothing to do with price, favorite area codes or time of day.

The carrier said Tuesday its calls would soon sound better.

One AT&T executive, Merrill Tutton, compared the advance to the difference between the sound of a record and compact disc.

″Sound has been at the very heart and soul of AT&T’s business for more than a century,″ said Tutton, president of AT&T’s consumer communications services business.

Rivals shrugged, saying customers are more concerned about price.

″For the last four or five years, all the long distance networks have been within minihairs of each other on quality,″ said Bernard Goodrich, a spokesman for MCI Communications Corp.

Sprint issued a statement calling the AT&T announcement ″smoke and mirrors″ and said, ″We’ll put our network up against any other at any time for meaningful quality and reliability.″

AT&T’s marketers dubbed the new technology ″TrueVoice.″ It will debut on the nation’s largest long-distance network in September and become available nationwide by the end of 1994.

The technology - developed at Bell Laboratories, AT&T’s research unit - boosts the bass end of a voice and raises the overall sound level of a long- distance call.

AT&T has long touted its service and quality as superior to lower-priced competitors. Tutton said the advance was driven by the company’s desire to stay ahead of rivals, not customer complaints.

″It’s the sort of innovation that’s simply not available from companies concentrating on price alone,″ Tutton said.

He said the company’s survey found 8 out of 10 people who tested the TrueVoice against other long distance lines, including its own, preferred the new sound.

Robert Self, a New York telecommunications consultant, said AT&T’s advantage in one area where customers judge quality, the time it takes for a call to connect, evaporated this spring when the government required a new standard for toll-free service. That requirement resulted in a more powerful switching device on more networks.

″AT&T is going to have to maintain superiority or the appearance of superiority as time goes by,″ Self said.

The long distance battle has become such a frenzy that new products and marketing tactics are tried every week.

On Monday, for instance, Sprint launched an international discount calling plan. Last week, the carriers blitzed customers with Fourth of July discounts.

AT&T began marketing TrueVoice with a TV commercial during the All-Star baseball game Tuesday night. A company spokeswoman declined to say how much it would spend promoting the enhancement.

The company’s ads show a toll-free number for customers to listen to the difference between the current network and TrueVoice enhancement. The demonstration features actor Tom Selleck, the company’s current spokesman.

AT&T has not decided whether to offer the enhancement on private networks it sets up for large customers, Tutton said.

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