By Joanna Glasner
02:00 AM Apr, 18, 2006
An ambitious plan to build a national cell-phone directory looks
increasingly like a wrong number.
While no one has officially killed the 2-year-old project to create a
“wireless 411″ service, the effort, originally expected to roll out
year, is not moving forward. There’s still no planned launch date and
apparently little public demand for the service.
“It’s not dead, but it’s not alive,” said Patrick Cox, CEO of Qsent,
company hired to manage the 411 data by a working group that includes
of the largest U.S. cell-phone carriers. “We’re sort of in this
Initially touted as a service for wireless customers who wanted to
friends, family and colleagues a way to find their numbers, the 411
drew fire early on from consumer- and privacy-rights advocates, who
that an improperly managed service could expose numbers to
and shatter mobile users’ expectations of privacy.
“Because these devices are so personal, people want to control who
ahold of their numbers,” said Keith Mallinson, wireless analyst at
firm Yankee Group.
According to Cox, directory planners have taken measures to address
privacy concerns: Only people who choose to participate would be
data could be removed at any time and numbers would be available only
through an operator, never online or in print.
Even so, carriers aren’t eager to roll out wireless 411.
from Cingular and Sprint — two of the project’s original backers,
with T-Mobile USA and Alltell — said no plans have been announced to
forward with the service.
Even with protections in place, privacy concerns remain pertinent as
people depend on wireless phones for their primary communications
Today, Yankee Group estimates that about 10 percent of all U.S. phone
users, and more than 20 percent of young adults, have no land line.
who have both a land line and a cell phone, meanwhile, make a growing
of their calls wirelessly.
Qsent’s Cox argues that a directory is even more relevant with this
“wireless substitution” on the rise.
“It’s the largest network of its kind in the world without a
said of the mobile-phone system. “It doesn’t allow people to connect.”
A survey commissioned around the inception of the 411 project revealed
public support for a directory. Research firm Pierz Group found that
percent of mobile users surveyed would want their numbers in a
provided strict privacy protections were in place.
Still, Yankee Group’s Mallinson said he’s not aware of any successful
mobile directory efforts outside the United States. And while it is
possible, for a fee, to list a wireless number in most traditional
directories, few people do so.
Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, sees the interminable delay in the 411
as vindication for the company’s early and continued opposition to the
“It’s a really bad idea,” said Verizon spokesman Jeff Nelson. “The
privacy that’s unique to wireless would just be torn up.”