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Jackson-based SunCom brightens cell users days

The future looks bright for Tritel, the Jackson-based company that recently rolled out SunCom digital cellular service in the metro Jackson area and plans to launch service throughout Mississippi and in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee within the next six months.

SunCom’s 1900 MHz personal communication service (PCS) digital network, which also includes parts of Indiana and Georgia, covers a contiguous geographical area of approximately 14 million people.

“We’re building out our network to tie in with AT&T’s national network,” said William M. Mounger II, chairman and CEO of Tritel Communications Inc. An affiliate of AT&T, Tritel markets under the SunCom and AT&T brand names. AT&T Wireless Services currently operates the largest digital wireless network in North America and is licensed to cover more than 95% of the U.S. population. Two other companies also market under the SunCom name.

“A key part of our strategy at AT&T is to extend a seamless TDMA IS-136 digital footprint for our customers and make this feature-rich technology available for consumers in new markets across the country,” said Dan Hesse, president and CEO of AT&T Wireless Services. “Our relationship with Tritel, as an AT&T affiliate, is part of our plan to meet that objective. Tritel is a strategic partner for us because the company understands the needs of consumers in its local markets and has a strong management team which is able to quickly adapt to changing needs.”

Tritel, established in 1998, was founded by a trio that has been together since 1990 – William M. Mounger II, E.B. Martin Jr. and Jerry M. Sullivan Jr., all of Jackson. Together, they founded Mercury Communications, a company that developed, built and operated rural cellular markets and “provided us with an experience base from which we were able to launch this company,” said Mounger.

“Partnering with AT&T wireless services to deliver the feature-rich services of the TDMA IS-136 technology platform will secure unsurpassed roaming and one-stop long distance opportunities for our customers,” he said.

Higher quality sound, more clarity and longer battery life are results of advanced digital technology. Tri-mode wireless phones – Motorola, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Ericsson and Nokia handsets — maximize the calling area by operating through the newly developed network, 800 MHz digital and traditional analog cellular systems.

SunCom’s monthly service rates begin at $14.95 and include free long distance and roaming for calls in state. Three Jackson-area retail stores opened earlier this month in Flowood, Brandon and Jackson. Handsets will also be sold through SunCom kiosks in national, regional and local retailers such as Circuit City, Office Depot and Office Max.

Mounger approached AT&T Wireless because he knew the company was on the fast track to build digital markets across the country, he said.

“We had the idea of SunCom for quite a while, but we had to wait to raise capital until we had the AT&T deal signed and finalized before we could really move forward,” Mounger said.

So far, SunCom has available credit of approximately $1 billion, he said.

“People on Wall Street realized that a seasoned management team with AT&T as a partner was a better bet than just a small regional company with no connection to a national footprint,” said Clark Akers, senior vice president of external affairs.

“The crux of the management team has been hired,” he said. “Now we’re hiring customer service representatives, sales representatives, switch technicians and financial staff.”

The company’s payroll currently lists 460 and is expected to reach 700 by year-end.

“Our management team is comprised of talented industry veterans who are native to the communities we serve and understand the unique needs of area consumers,” said Bill Arnett, president of Tritel. “The majority of our employees are from the Jackson area, but a good number relocated here to be a part of this company.”

In addition to bringing jobs to the region, one of SunCom’s providers, Ericsson, opened a regional office with a dozen employees in Jackson. Tritel Communications has already invested more than $100 million in infrastructure in Mississippi. The company’s customer care center is located in Flowood, the regional technical operations center is housed in Madison and corporate headquarters is based in downtown Jackson.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.

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