Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Yellowstone Wireless Project

The National Park Service (NPS) recently proposed an overhaul of wireless services in Yellowstone National Park. Their 150-page report is a response to those who want more wireless services in the park, and those who want less. Their figures show the former outnumbers the latter, 70% to 30%. The NPS put together 4 choices:
  • Alternative A: Leave everything as it is with 5 cell sites located within the park.
  • Alternative B: Eliminate all cell sites within the park leaving service only available from signals coming from outside park boundaries.
  • Alternative C: A limited increase in wireless services, both cellular and wi-fi and moving some sites out of view.
  • Alternative D: A substantial increase in wireless service, cellular on all main roads and wi-fi in most lodging.

Unfortunately, the comment period on these choices has already expired and no, we didn't get to make our opinion known, either. The NPS prefers Alternative C because with the improvement in wireless services, they will also move some of the cell sites to where they will be less visible. The purists, who are quite vocal, have made it known they only want Alternative B.

While we appreciate the "wild" aspect of Yellowstone, it is treated more like a theme park than a wilderness and we could easily agree to Alternative C, which, barring any extreme support any other way, is the most likely outcome. I really do want them to move that sore thumb cell site at Old Faithful, and if we all can't agree, Alternative A and the status quo wins, wild or not.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sprint Gives Nextel Some Love

Last month we reported that Sprint was hoping to find a buyer for Nextel. Now it seems they want to hold on to it. Is it the realization that there are no buyers or is it the admission that their 800 MHz rebanding hassles have made it a poison property? It could be that letting go of Nextel could allow a competitor with enough facilities to give Sprint even more customer losses they can't afford.

No matter. We have always felt that cellular users are better off with an independent Nextel and each year it stays in the hands of Sprint, it falls that much more out of favor. I guess that, too, could be a business plan. With the success of Nextel of Mexico, we keep hoping that our hero would arrive from south of the border. But Sprint sees things we don't, and it's either too rosy or too toxic for family consumption. So, Lights, Stage, Let's Rock...or Talk.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

In this holiday season we reflect on what we want, and what we're thankful for. What we want is more coverage. To that end, many people have looked forward to their local wireless carrier being taken over by the likes of AT&T, Verizon Wireless and a few others. Now we are faced with not only a dominant "Big 4", but the prospects of maybe only a "Big 2"! This is not good.

We truly feel there will come a time where the Big 2 (Verizon and AT&T) will have no competition. The small carriers will depend on the Big 2 for roaming service outside their home areas and with the demise of Alltel, we expect those roaming fees to eventually not only rise, but rise significantly.

So let us give thanks for the smaller carriers who remain independent and maybe give them a serious look when our current plans expire. Like Verizon and T-Mobile, foreign investors may be the key to maintaining our cellular choices. Latin American companies already have a presence in our market and would love to have more. These are immigrants we should welcome. In the meantime, I keep doing the math on whether I can port one of our main accounts to T-Mobile and doing our part. And just for fun, we're asking Santa for a Cricket Wireless phone. They might end up being part of the Big 3.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sharpen the Knife: Alltel Divestitures

The FCC has released the final recipe for the new Verizon Wireless/Alltel pie. The feds have added 5 markets to the 100 Verizon has already offered to give up. We have posted the current map of these markets, and the list of the additional FCC markets in an attached list on that page. The FCC report makes for some interesting reading, but here are the high points:
  • Verizon will need to give up all kinds of spectrum in these markets, not just 850 MHz cellular, but others like 700 MHz and 1900 MHz, to get under the 95 MHz cap.
  • Verizon will need to continue Alltel's existing roaming agreements for a minimum of 4 years.
  • Verizon must maintain the Alltel GSM roaming network, however, Verizon says there will be no new GSM sites, and none of them will be upgraded to 3G.
  • Verizon will have 120 days after closing to sell off the divested pieces and must sell them in as geographically-adjacent blocks as possible.

We still recommend you stay with, or jump in on, Alltel's current generous plans. Verizon may or may not keep them, but they're good if only for the short term. Residents of the divested markets, watch this space.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

AT&T Buys Centennial

It's always sad to report the loss of another carrier. With AT&T buying Centennial Wireless, could this mean AT&T won't have enough money to offer Verizon Wireless anything for their divested Alltel properties?

Things will probably get better for Centennial customers under AT&T. We like Centennial, but not their plan pricing. It's always bad news to lose a solid regional carrier, but the locals will probably benefit from the deal. And there are a lot of locals...over 1 million customers. Time to get excited, Kalamazoo!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why Stay With Alltel?

We have received some heat for still recommending Alltel both here and in our Reviews. If you live within their coverage, Alltel is still a great choice for lots of reasons.

First, Alltel's plans are more generous than those of most other major carriers, especially with features like "My Circle." Second, Alltel's network has been continually upgraded to be as advanced as any. Third, Alltel's coverage is usually the best available in almost every region they serve. Fourth, they have roaming agreements that cover the whole country. You should be able to keep your plan as long as you don't change phones or plans.

What about the future? This map shows most of the areas to be divested. If your account is acquired by Verizon Wireless, you will have locked in a superior Alltel plan, and get all the additional Verizon features and coverage. If you end up with US Cellular, you will join a great carrier who will have a much improved presence across the US, about as large as Alltel is now. If you end up with a brand new company, it will probably look just like today's Alltel, and should still be a Top 10 carrier.

Another possibility is that you might end up with a major carrier like AT&T. No matter how you feel about them, it is not a step down from what you now enjoy with Alltel. If you jump on board with Alltel today, you will have these options, with the ability to leave if you don't like the end result. To bypass Alltel today and go with any other carrier, you lose that choice. The odds are you can keep your current features at least for 2 years. Most people will want to change phones by then.

We are sad to see Alltel go, but joining them now just may be one of the last great cellular opportunities available. Go for it!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Verizon/Alltel-The Next Phase

Verizon Wireless gets to acquire Alltel, but at what cost? The FCC chose Election Day to release some of their most controversial approvals. Were they hoping we wouldn't notice? Even though Verizon offered to divest 100 markets, the FCC asked for 5 more. They also asked Verizon to extend roaming agreements to at least 4 years, and to maintain Alltel's existing GSM roaming network "indefinitely." With that stipulation, AT&T may see the need to offer a premium price for the Alltel spin-offs as unnecesary.

Some people look at this as a positive move, but losing Alltel, a carrier with such a large area of coverage, is a significant loss to cellular choice. An excellent statement by FCC chairman Michael Copps outlines many of the concerns of losing competition over such a wide area of the country, and he notes this may "put some smaller carriers out of business". We have posted a map of the 100 markets Verizon will divest, and, as soon as we can find it, will add the additional 5 markets the FCC requested, one of which is Johnson County, TN.

For now, we still recommend Alltel as an excellent choice of carriers. If you are eventually acquired by Verizon, you will be able to keep what we see as a better value in wireless plans, at least for the near future. If you are among those customers who are divested, you may be able to keep those plans even longer, and will either become a customer of the newest hot cellular carrier, or end up with the number 2 or number 5 cellular operator. That's not a bad choice. But this is a limited time offer. Grab a great Alltel plan before the end of the year and enjoy.