Bell Canada has lost more than 1.2 million phone customers to rivals Rogers and Videotron in the past three years. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Bell Canada is raising the ante in its phone battle against cable companies with two new calling features designed to stem landline customer defections.

Montreal-based Bell on Monday announced a service that allows landline customers to access their voice mail messages through any internet-connected computer. The service can also alert customers to new messages by automatically sending an e-mail or text message to their mobile phones.

The new features are designed to lure customers back to the Bell fold, said Mark Langton, a spokesman for the company.

"There's still innovation being done here," he said.

The company also launched a service for its cellphone customers that converts text messages into voice on landlines. The service uses text-recognition software to translate the message, which can be listened to on a landline by the receiving customer or sent to voice mail.

The sender also gets a notification indicating whether the message was received by a live listener or whether it was forwarded to voice mail. If the message is received by a person, he or she can respond immediately with a voice mail back to the sender.

The online voice mail service ranges from $3 to $13, depending on the subscriber's phone package. Regular messaging charges apply with the text-to-landline service, Bell said.

Both offerings are an effort by the company to make its landline service more appealing.

The company has been hemorrhaging customers to Rogers Communications in Ontario and Videotron in Quebec, with those rivals poaching more than 1.2 million subscribers since introducing phone service three years ago. Bell lost a further 93,000 customers in its most recent quarter.

The cable companies offer a form of voice-over-internet protocol phone service, which integrates internet-like features with basic calling, as well discounted long-distance rates.

A growing number of customers have also been ditching their landlines entirely in favour of going cellphone only. About five per cent of Canadians had a cellphone but no landline as of December 2006, according to Statistics Canada.