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Verizon Wireless expanded an existing partnership with in-vehicle information service provider OnStar last week, creating the America's Choice with OnStar calling plan, allowing shared minutes and call forwarding between Verizon Wireless and OnStar devices.

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”We are allowing a single bill for users to share minutes between their Verizon Wireless devices and OnStar embedded, in-vehicle devices,” said John Stratton, chief marketing officer at Verizon Wireless. “This was driven by demand among our customers and OnStar users, and by internal developments to create an integrated calling plan.”

The new plan will be available by the middle of next month in the Atlanta, Kansas City metro area, New York City, San Francisco and greater metro Detroit markets. It will be expanded nationwide in subsequent months.

The calling plan includes two different call transfer options. Immediate Call Forwarding lets customers forward all calls from their Verizon Wireless handheld phones directly to their in-vehicle OnStar phones. With Conditional Call Forwarding, the calls will be forward to the voice-activated, in-vehicle device only after four or five rings on a Verizon Wireless phone.

Previously the two companies had an agreement under which OnStar was buying minutes on Verizon Wireless' network. The most recent deal expands on that by making it an integrated service that benefits both companies in terms of marketing and visibility.

“Hands-free, cell phone communication in the automobile is one of the top wireless applications vehicle owners are interested in,” said Thilo Koslowski, lead automotive analyst and vice president of Gartner Group.

OnStar, which has 2.6 million users nationwide, recently upgraded to digital hardware that is compatible with CDMA wireless networks, said Chet Huber, president of OnStar, which is owned by General Motors. The equipment and service is so far available in a handful of GM vehicle, but will be available for all GM vehicles sometime next year.

Huber said Verizon Wireless would be OnStar's mobile calling plan partner in markets where the Verizon Wireless network is available. In other markets and in Canada OnStar plans to align with other carriers. The calling plans will start at $49.99 per month.

Existing subscribers to OnStar's digital service can sign up for the America's Choice with OnStar plan by updating existing Verizon Wireless customer agreements or starting new ones. Users of analog hardware will require an equipment upgrade, Huber said.

Stratton said Verizon Wireless and OnStar also will use the integrated calling plan as an opportunity to explore other potential services, such as data services and other features. “This new plan will really open some doors for us,” he said.


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