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Telecom specialists say there

Metro wireless competition enhanced with Sprint’s entry

JACKSON — When Sprint PCS, the largest acquirer of wireless communication customers in the U.S. for the last seven quarters, came to town earlier this month, competitors weren’t concerned. Even though the wireless communication marketplace is becoming increasingly crowded in the metro area, telecom specialists say there’s room for everyone.

“Increased competition is good for the wireless industry and good for consumers because it challenges wireless companies to provide more innovative and affordable products and services,” said Jana Ray, marketing and advertising manager for Cellular South. “Approximately 31% of the U.S. population uses wireless telephone service and the industry is continuing to grow at a phenomenal rate, which means many options are available for wireless users.”

Even before Sprint PCS, the largest all-digital, all-PCS nationwide network with service in more than 330 metropolitan markets and more than 4,000 cities nationwide, officially opened for business last week at its new store at 4225 Lakeland Drive, the response has been outstanding, said Tom Mateer, Sprint PCS’ vice president of affiliate marketing, particularly because most Sprint PCS plans include free voicemail, caller ID and call waiting, with no hidden charges.

“Sprint PCS acquired licenses in the FCC auction in 1995,” he said. “We targeted the largest metropolitan markets first to reach as many people as quickly as we could. We developed an affiliate program in 1998 to reach into secondary and tertiary markets, beyond the top 50 or 100. The program was intended to get to the markets faster than if we built them ourselves and it has worked very well for us. In two years, we’ve identified 18 companies to partner with, building in areas we dedicated to them, with U.S. Unwired as our affiliate in the southeastern U.S.”

Jackson was targeted not only because of its size, but because it is a telecommunications center for the U.S. and is “absolutely key” to the region, Mateer said.

“Our plans don’t stop at Jackson,” he said. “We have 11 markets planned for Mississippi.”

In the last few months, U.S. Unwired has been building cellular towers in Jackson, and sales crews have been partnering with retailers, such as Radio Shack, to offer Sprint PCS calling plans.

“We’re not just providing customers in Jackson with a better phone. We’re providing a connection that is more clear, more affordable and more secure than conventional cellular services,” said Robert Piper, CEO and president of U.S. Unwired.

Based in Lake Charles, La., U.S. Unwired, a division of Louisiana’s Cameron Telephone Co. established in 1928, is authorized to build, operate and manage wireless service in 41 markets in parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas as a Sprint PCS network partner.

Johnny Hales, spokesperson for Unity Communications, said he’s not worried.

“Unlike other telecom companies which sell only one product, Unity Communications offers consumers a single-source telecom solution.We can provide them with their local and long distance phone service, cellular service, Internet access and paging service all on one bill and with one call for customer service.”

Melody Spivey, spokesperson for BellSouth Mobility, said the company’s reaction to Sprint’s entering the market has been positive.

“We are excited about our position in the marketplace,” Spivey said. “BellSouth Mobility is the first major carrier to give customers exactly what they’re paying for with BellSouth Rollover. BellSouth Rollover allows a customer to keep their unused monthly minutes, any leftover minutes from one month will be ‘rolled over’ into the next month.”

Consumers purchasing wireless service for the first time or thinking of switching calling plans should carefully evaluate their options and make sure they are aware of the two major components of wireless:geographic coverage and call clarity, Ray said.

“For instance, some companies may tout that they have coverage across the nation. However, a subscriber must be sending and receiving calls on that particular company’s network to realize this benefit,” she said. “Other important factors that consumers should evaluate when selecting a wireless carrier include details such as whether a calling plan is a limited-time offer, length of contract, pricing and features of handsets, strength of coverage and clarity, whether free minutes are limited to the carrier’s network and if a calling plan meets their personal calling habits, etc.”

Cellular South focuses on providing the best coverage and clarity possible at an affordable price, Ray said.

“Savvy wireless users know that the most important aspect of wireless is to be able to use their wireless phone when and where they want,” she said. “And they don’t want a lot of extra charges for roaming or for making long distance calls.Earlier this year, Cellular South announced a $30-million major network expansion that will increase our total number of towers in Mississippi by 65%, plus we are expanding outside of the state through an acquisition of wireless assets from Alltel, including digital PCS licenses in Mobile, Ala., and surrounding areas, and the Florida Panhandle.All of Cellular South’s digital calling plans feature no roaming and no long distance within the entire state of Mississippi. And Cellular South’s Digital America nationwide calling plan includes no roaming and no long distance charges within the entire United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

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