Hitting age 25 in the wireless telecommunications sector may get a company classified as a graybeard, but age doesn’t mean you have to be less adventurous.
Executives of Cellular South a couple years ago saw the quarter century mark ahead and decided to celebrate it with a name change to C Spire (Customer Inspired). At the same time they declared that wireless telephone service would be a C Spire mainstay but every other corner of the digital market would be its domain as well.
The domain would include space for digital data analytics, ultra-fast Internet and commercial data storage and transmission and a host of other uses and services.
Whittled to its basics, says C Spire President & CEO Victor Hu Meena Jr., the idea is to take many, many series of “ones” and “zeroes” and do many things with them.
All those “many things” require wireless spectrum, however. Acquiring spectrum can be a donnybrook when you’re a regional-sized telecom trying to get shares that the giants such as AT&T and Verizon feel they have dibs on.
The most recent fight has been over 700-MHz spectrum — a commodity critical to next generation of digital wireless services such as 4G LTE and 1 gigabit-per-second fiber to the home. C Spire spent $200 million getting spectrum in various parts of the 700-MHz area, said David Miller, C Spire spokesman.
It needs much more to meet its market goals and has had to confront continued hesitation by AT&T and Verizon to allow C Spire and other smaller players to use the lower bands of the 700 spectrum to run the devices to which they provide services. It’s called 700 MHz interoperability and C Spire and others of like size such as T Mobile and US Cellular want it. They are not required to provide it so they haven’t – until recently.
Just ahead of an expected Federal Communications Commission ruling on the issue in September, AT&T relented in and agreed to allow interoperability.
“That was a huge win for us,” Miller said. “We expect the other biggies to come along.”
A key benefit is that with interoperability wireless device makers will be more willing to build the devices because they can be used across all spectrums, not just the lower bands, Miller noted.
Meena expects he and C Spire will continue to engage the issue. “There are more battles to come,” he said.
In another victory for C Spire and other smaller players in their effort to preserve market potential, the FCC recently rejected a proposed Verizon and T Mobile merger.
Like the fight over spectrum, the sector expects more battles over consolidation.
The bigger the giants get, they feel it more likely they can get regulatory policies most beneficial to them, Miller noted.
The past year brought another key achievement for C Spire with the nation’s first statewide rollout of 1 Gbps fiber to the home, a move made possible by C Spire’s widespread fiber optic infrastructure. A home subscriber will get Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than today’s standard broadband, as well as digital television and home Internet phone, C Spires says.
With the customer’s cellular phone included, the package becomes a “quad play,” Miller noted.
Miller conceded getting going on the 1 Gbps ate into the company’s bottom line but hardly as much as it would have without the infrastructure already in place.
As CEO Meena said, the fiber was there. “We had all this fiber running everywhere. The next logical place to go was the home.”
The expense and regulatory issues and permitting makes it a slow go for now but C Spire is determined to go beyond the nine Mississippi cities recently selected for the service, the company says.
Miller said it is difficult to understate the importance of the 1 Gbps and the transformative benefits to the communities that will have it.
“This is the largest deployment of 1 Gbps Internet service to the home in any place in the country. In little ol’ Mississippi…. These cities are going to become attractors now for technology companies.”
Having lived the ups and downs of achieving C Spire’s recent milestones, it is of little surprise that Meena can easily recite them and note how one led to another:
“We’re doing wireless. Why don’t we get involved in the Internet? OK, we are at 1 Gbps.… Why don’t we connect businesses via fiber optic cable? We’re doing that… Why don’t we connect to homes? We are… Why don’t we get into the video business? We are in the video business through our telephone companies (Delta and Franklin Telephone Services) and now through our fiber-in-the-home initiative.”
Where might Meena’s focus be five years from now?
Analytics, he says.
Some of that venture is under way with Vu Digital, a C Spire affiliate. Miller said Vu offers the world’s first comprehensive online “personalization tool that delivers content users need, want and maybe didn’t even know existed straight to them without search.”
Vu Digital, Meena said, “is slow going right now because there is so much opportunity we can’t figure out what to do.”
On one hand there is the immensity of data and the other the opportunity it presents, he says.
“More data has been created in the last two years than in the history of the world,” he said. “Somebody has to make sense of it all.”
That would be C Spire, Meena said.
“You can analyze anything. Everything is data now. You can analyze a health profile; who is most likely to have a disease?… It can be used for trivial things or for matters of life and death.”
Tap the data and you create the knowledge, Meena said. “None of this is going away. It will be bigger and even more important” in five years.
“Whatever technology might appear, we’ll be all in it.”