Sprint Corp. has begun marketing in New Jersey and Pennsylvania a computerized telephone with an electronic display.
The campaign, which may be extended to 19 states, highlights the growing interest among banks, telephone, and technology companies in giving consumers so-called screen telephones for electronic commerce.
"We're asking consumers to change the way they do business" said Betsy Frost, manager of the project for Sprint, which is based in Kansas City, Mo.
The marketing campaign, consisting of television advertisements, direct mail, and statement stuffers, began last week. It promotes a computerized telephone called the Scanfone, distributed by US Order, a unit of Worldcorp., Herndon, Va.
Sprint is focusing the marketing efforts on customers of its local telephone units in central Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey, which operate 380,000 subscriber telephone lines.
Ms. Frost said that if pilot campaign goes well, Sprint's other local telephone companies may start marketing the Scanfone to their customers.
Sprint's local telephone units operate a total of 5.9 million subscriber lines in 19 states, including Florida, Texas, and Illinois.
Most of these are rural telephone companies, although some serve urban areas, including Las Vegas and Orlando.
Sprint does not expect to market the device through its long-distance division, Ms. Frost said. Sprint hopes that devices such as the Scanfone help its local telephone units sell advanced services, she added.
These services include caller identification, in which the name and telephone number of a caller are displayed on a telephone screen, and electronic yellow pages, in which yellow page listings are displayed on telephone screens.
Designed for Variety
US Order is hoping that banks will piggy-back on the marketing efforts of telephone companies such as Sprint, and deliver additional banking services through Scanfones, said William F. Gorog, the company's chairman and chief executive.
The use of screen telephones for a variety of transactions is the dream of most promoters of these devices, and a central element in the design of the Scanfone.
For example, people can use Scanfones to buy goods from catalogs by swiping a so-called "light pen" over a bar-coded list of vendors.
To facilitate these transactions, Scanfones are equipped with credit card and debit card readers that let people use plastic to pay for their purchases.
People can also use Scanfones to check bank account balances and transfer funds through automatic teller machine networks.
US Order has had a link into the Most ATM network for about a year. Two weeks ago, it struck a deal with Society Corp. for the Cleveland-based banking company to sponsor a US Order link into the Mac ATM network, Mr. Gorog said.
Other Pacts in the Works
Within 45 days, he added, US Order hopes to complete agreements for links into two other ATM networks. Mr. Gorog declined to name the networks.
Two other telephone companies - Bell Atlantic Corp. and BellSouth Corp. - have agreed to market the Scanfone, as have Banc One Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, and Crestar Financial Corp. of Richmond, Va.
Mr. Gorog said US Order is now focusing more on striking marketing relationships with telephone companies than with banks - because the utilities have more customers in the areas in which they operate, making the partnerships more promising.
Once US Order firms up its relationships with the telephone companies, it hopes to pursue more marketing partnerships with banks, Mr. Gorog added.
This approach differs from that of Online Resources and Communications Corp., one of US Order's principal competitors. The McLean, Va., company is focusing first on getting banks to market its screen telephones to consumers.
Since US Order was founded in 1990, it has shipped close to 12,000 Scanfones, Mr. Gorog said.