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Big Bundles

Media downloaded or streamed daily or weekly by home users. Source: PC World Survey
Media downloaded or streamed daily or weekly by home users. Source: PC World Survey
The latest bundles, often termed quad- or multi-plays, add mobile phone service to the mix. The AT&T Quad Pack, for instance, includes DSL, landline phone, AT&T (formerly Cingular) mobile service, and Dish Network satellite TV for $135 a month. Verizon's similar Ultimate Freedom plan ranges in price from $135 to $145 a month; it combines Verizon's landline, mobile, and Internet services with DirectTV satellite TV.

Unlike the vendors' fiber-based bundles (AT&T's U-verse and Verizon's FiOS), Quad Pack and Ultimate Freedom use a mix of technologies to deliver services to the home.

Choosing a wireless carrier isn't exclusively about price, however--quality of service is equally important. An inexpensive quad-play bundle that delivers subpar cellular coverage isn't a great deal. In addition, you may get services you don't want.

Andy Tart, 39, of Raleigh, North Carolina, gets his Internet and cable TV from Time Warner. But when it comes to a triple- or quad-play bundle, he'll pass. "I quit having a home phone in 2000," says Tart, a service-department worker who functions perfectly well with just a cell phone.

Cable providers, which historically haven't been able to offer cell phone services in their bundle, are moving to attract customers like Tart. Leading firms such as Comcast, Cox, and Time Warner have begun reselling Sprint mobile service under the Pivot brand. Time Warner, for instance, currently offers Pivot in six cities, and expects to complete a full 33-state rollout by the end of the year.

Wireless bundles are relatively new, and thus far only 12 percent of mobile customers have signed up for one, according to IDC's Matt Davis. Nevertheless, integration between cell phones and the home opens a host of possibilities, Davis says.

"There are a number of applications that fuse the wireless and wire-line world," he says, "like having more features that interact with one another." For example, you might use your mobile phone to program your DVR, or have one voice-mail system that supports all of your phones.

Verizon residential customers located in the mid-Atlantic states and in parts of New England can already sign up for One Point Voice Mail, an $8-per-month service that provides a single voice mailbox for a home number and up to four additional landline or wireless phones.

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