Monday, November 28, 2011

New Wireless in the Dakotas

While some carriers talk about wireless deals in the Billions, there are some areas of the country that are just now getting their first taste of wireless. While some of that infamous "stimulus" money made its way to the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations for a nice shiny new broadband network, there is another native American enclave just getting their first access at plain old wireless service. In some cases it's the first telephone service, period.

Straddling the border of North and South Dakota is the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, an area with almost no cellular coverage. They have taken it upon themselves to put up their own cellular sites and from those sites they're also serving their neighbors with WIMAX broadband service. The tribal authorities considered their own wired network, but found wireless much cheaper. It was just this summer that the FCC decided Standing Rock deserves money from the Universal Service Fund to help supply affordable service to the citizens of the area with their first telephone service of any kind. This is an area with 75% should be easier to find work with a phone available, not to mention better health care, emergency services and education.

So, while we watch Billion dollar wireless deals go back and forth, keep in mind those Americans who are just now getting their first wireless (and telephone) service. Standing Rock Telecom gets credit for moving ahead long before the federal bucks became available. Wireless will change lives there.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Viaero Invades Kansas

With the grand opening of the new Viaero Wireless store in Hays, Kansas, we anxiously await their takeover of the Kansas rural wireless market. Viaero is doing what every small wireless carrier should be doing. They offer competitive price plans, good customer support and a top-notch network. They dominate rural Nebraska and also give the major carriers a run for their money in eastern Colorado.

Now Viaero is taking over rural Kansas and is also working their way into new territory in central Colorado. I give credit to AT&T and Verizon for maintaining a few sites in these rural areas, but this is Viaero's bread and butter...they focus on the needs of the rural customer. If you're near their coverage, you can even petition Viaero for a cell site in your town.

This carrier has overcome a number of challenges including backhaul bottlenecks by completely bypassing the local wireline companies. This has actually made Viaero's network more reliable than others, especially during bad weather. This also makes them a good option for replacing your wired home phone for both voice calls and Internet access.

Viaero's expansion into rural Kansas may step on the toes of a few other small wireless operators in the area and we hope they will all play nice for their mutual benefit. FCC license records show that South Dakota could be Viaero's next beachhead, but we're hoping they have even bigger plans.

This is a network run by technical guys instead of salesmen, so their innovations truly result in a better product instead of fancier window dressing. We can't be sure if there is a direct correlation, but AT&T has a significant number of applications with the FCC to upgrade cell sites in Viaero's Colorado and Kansas markets. What a coincidence!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Get Ready for Big Changes

The pendulum is beginning to swing away from approval of the AT&T/T-Mobile deal, but whatever the result of the court action early next year, expect some potentially earth-shaking changes. Laws forbid anybody talking about any deal other the one on the table now, but rest-assured there's a lot of talking behind the scenes. Everyone now needs a "Plan B." Just because they can't talk about it doesn't mean there isn't planning for it.

Since the deal was first announced, several companies now have some spectrum to sell, to buy, or utilize. These include a number of cable, satellite and broadband operators that could either offer their spectrum to a newly-independent T-Mobile, or grab some spectrum that gets spun off as a result of any AT&T divestiture.

Either way, expect this quiet period to be followed by big fireworks next spring. There are a number of players who may jump into the wireless arena in a big way. Consider Google, Apple, Microsoft, and some names we've never thought of. Your captain has turned on the fasten seat belts sign.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cox Goes, Frontier Comes

Cox Wireless has decided to get out of the retail wireless business. Cox has their own wireless spectrum, but decided to offer wireless as an MVNO with Sprint instead. It was a nice idea for Cox to be able to offer their customers a wireless component to their communcations bundles, but it wasn't worth the trouble. Qwest, now CenturyLink (CTL) found that out, too, and eventually partnered up as an agent for Verizon Wireless (VZ).

Frontier Communications (FTR), a rural wireline operator, has learned from these mistakes and has decided to add a wireless product to their bundles with an agreement with AT&T (T). Frontier will act as an agent for AT&T and not as an MVNO. One minor effect is that Frontier becomes another communications provider that will probably not be interested in buying a wireless network, like, oh, maybe T-Mobile.

What will happen to the Cox wireless spectrum at 700 MHz and AWS? They might be hoping that AT&T might be spectrum shopping sometime next year.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Is it OK for Alltel to Lose Customers?

Last week Alltel's corporate owner, Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN), reported their 3rd quarter financial results, and among the numbers was a drop in Alltel "retail" customers. Those are the people who use cellular service actually provided by Alltel, not those who are using an Alltel phone but are really Verizon Wireless customers. We expected a drop in Alltel customers but the news is not all bad.

While there are fewer Alltel customers, there are more people using ATN's networks. Along with the Comment Wireless network, Alltel's owners report a larger number of other wireless users roaming on ATN networks, and an increase in revenue as a result. While roaming isn't needed as much as it was before, wireless roamers are using more minutes and data which means more income for ATN.

Dare we say ATN might be better off without Alltel customers as long as they can receive the benefits of the Alltel network? Nah. Being a 'real' wireless carrier has lots of benefits, and there's the synergy with the other ATN wireless companies, including Choice Wireless, Commnet and several smaller ATN projects. This might explain that after ATN revealed their 'bad' economic news, the company's stock price went UP, and today received a new "Buy" rating from Yep, we're still likin' Alltel, whether we can talk on it or not.