Monday, August 31, 2009

With ATN Comes More GSM Roaming

The recent reactions to our report on AT&T's roaming agreements with other GSM carriers got us thinking about the Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN) acquisition of the Divested Alltel properties across the US. ATN's subsidiary, Commnet Wireless, supplies GSM roaming to almost twice the geographic area as CDMA roaming. It leads us to believe that eventually, ATN will add GSM to their newly-acquired Alltel sites in their 26 market areas.

We got a 'back door' confirmation of that possibility as part of the protest being lodged by a group of Georgia telephone company operators. Their complaint to the FCC is partly based on the fact that while ATN will probably continue to be a CDMA carrier, they will sacrifice spectrum with a GSM roaming-only overlay, thus providing inferior service. Other arguments by the Georgia group seem silly, but if I were sitting at the FCC seeing that a CDMA operator may add GSM roaming to their CDMA sites (just like Alltel does in other markets, today), I would say, "Hurray!"

Not only do we get a new, independent cellular operator across the US, who will probably expand their local service across several other licensed markets in the country, but we also gain a GSM roaming partner with a company that specializes in hard-to-cover rural areas. Contrary to the Georgia naysayers, this sounds like a win-win for the cellular customer.

The Georgia group probably has an agenda that is unrelated to the ATN transaction and focuses more on Verizon Wireless. ATN responded with another press release which is posted on our ATN information page. Thanks for the protest, guys. Without it we wouldn't get updates.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Unlimited: Picking Up Speed?

We have been waiting for the next Unlimited shoe to drop. Since several carriers and resellers have dropped their Unlimited prices to the $30 to $50 range, we wonder how long can the major carriers hold their prepaid options to the $99 level. We have been watching a rumor that AT&T will announce a $60 Unlimited rate soon, but we have absolutely no confirmation. Is it just wishful thinking on someones part?

Switching to get a better rate has been very popular lately, but the large carriers claim there has been no loss of customers moving to prepaid. Since there is no longer a stigma attached to using Prepaid, users are happy to cut their wireless bills in half.

We actually expected Sprint to be the first to make a move to a cheaper Unlimited rate but they may be hanging their hopes on the popularity of their Boost Mobile Unlimited plans, and maybe their upcoming purchase of Virgin Mobile. If Pocket Wireless in Texas is selling Unlimited at $25 a month, and is still making money, how low can we go?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Atlantic Tele-Network Review

There was much speculation about what service will be like when Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN) takes over part of the divested Alltel network. We have taken the next step and actually added our review of what service should be like with the new owners. ATN estimates that approvals from the US Department of Justice and the FCC should come in the 4th quarter of 2009. That means around October or November things should begin a slow change from the "old" Alltel, to the "new".

We use "old" and "new" because we think the new network will resemble what Alltel looks like today, and that's good. Their Customer Service might be answering the phone in Little Rock, Arkansas, which will not be served by ATN. There will probably be some confusion as Alltel customers get "The Letter" detailing who goes where. And then there's the Alltel web site that sends you merrily on your way depending on what Zip Code you enter...which may or may not be the right place. Our review will reflect these changes as they happen.

For some of us it will be fun to watch. For a few others, it will cause headaches. But we bet there will be several hundred thousand customers who won't notice any change to their service and won't even think about it unless their phone breaks. The status quo can be wonderful.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Unlimited Joy

While we don't see an "Unlimited war" brewing, we do see a competitive situation getting warmer as Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS each "improve" their Unlimited offers. Both carriers have made the $40 price point much more attractive by adding many more features, including some roaming. This would be in response to recently offered Unlimited plans from Boost Mobile for $50, Virgin Mobile for $50+, and TracFone's StraightTalk from Wal-Mart at $45 (with Verizon-branded handsets).

Fortunately, Cricket and MetroPCS now have lots of features they can add or subtract to create a custom-made plan at several price points. Our favorite feature is roaming, both on and off their own networks. Oh, and don't forget all the other well-priced Unlimited plans from all the smaller carriers we spoke of last week. The pressure will be on them to keep their prices in check, too.

I still don't talk that much...