Can You Hear Me Now? Verizon-Alltel=AT&T Wireless

Alltel-Verizon Divested Markets 

For a long time it didn’t matter which cellular telephone carrier I might subscribe to, or even if I went without.  Out in the country, the signal was seldom sufficient to use the little bricks anyway.  One company bought another company that sold part of itself off to another.  The address on the bill keeps coming for further and further away.

Recently, Verizon bought Alltel, which had bought Midwest Wireless.  We had switched to Midwest Wireless because they were run by real live people who lived in our regional “neighborhood”.  I could see their HQ building when I drove through Mankato.  I could see their donations to local charities.  I trusted that I could get an answer to my questions when the technology failed.  Which it will do.

Part of the deal when Verizon bought Arkansas-based Alltel was that they had to spin-off (divest) overlapping markets to satisfy FCC competition concerns.  I’m an overlapping market.  This great map site, Cellular Map Net, posted info on which markets from which side of which deal were likely going where.  I’m a map guy.  I like maps.  I prefer the visual presentation of statistical data.  Cellular Map Net’s got it covered.  They provided the map above, which makes a lot more sense to me than the page full of markets listed below it.  Basically, if you’re in a bold color, you, or your neighbors, are gonna get bounced at least one more time.

And bounce you will.  AT&T announced over the weekend that they are indeed acquiring 1.5 million subscribers in 79 service areas across 18 states, including Minnesota.  There’s another side deal where Verizon will pick up some subscribers down south that AT&T had acquired in another deal where there’s a bit too much overlap.  Looks like Verizon is spinning off the old Unicel portion of my market—which I’ve heard was the weaker network, tho I never noticed the difference when we switched—so it’s my neighbors bouncing not I.

AT&T’s move is good news and bad news.  If you’re bouncing, you will be getting a new phone, since AT&T’s network isn’t compatible with Verizons.  AT&T press release says:

Network conversion from Verizon’s CDMA network to GSM technology and transition of the operations to AT&T is expected to take no longer than 12 months from the date the transaction closes and to result in an additional planned capital investment of approximately $400 million over 2009 and 2010. The transaction adds customers and enhances network coverage and is expected to deliver substantial long-term stockholder value.

Geeks have been arguing between the American CDMA technology and the European GSM technology for years (compare & contrast at Wikipedia).  Either way, cell phone users in these primarily rural markets will be getting new choices.  I’ve avoided the land rush for Apple’s iPhone since it is exclusive to AT&T.  Now I may have to confront my iPhone lust next year no matter— AT&T’s GSM network re-do would come online about the same time as rumours put a CDMA iPhone into Verizon’s stores.  Not that I’m confident either one will work well outside major metropolitan areas.

There may be other benefits from an AT&T connection, such as the QWest – AT&T wifi access deal.  I’m finding low-overhead wi-fi is a quite practical benefit and AT&T’s got alot of hot-spots (i.e. Barnes & Noble and Starbucks).  Maybe Frontier (my ILEC) will strike a competing deal (I can dream)?  I also have Farm Bureau’s member discount that Alltel honored from the Midwest Wireless days, so that’s an incentive to stick with Verizon if they keep that promise. 

The biggest factor for me, personally, is that Verizon built a new tower in town so I can actually get a signal on my plain vanilla Motorola cell phone.  Will either company make the investment necessary to gain useful (voice and data broadband) connections on new hi-tech devices?  Will you hear me now??  That remains an entirely different question.

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