Cellular South continues to pioneer the latest technology

by Wally Northway

Published: November 19,2007

From the day it was founded, Cellular South has been a pioneer. When the telecommunications company built its network in 1988, it was one of the first in the nation, and immediately began gaining notice for offering products and services other providers could not or would not offer.

Next February, Jackson-based Cellular South, which remains locally owned and operated, will mark its 20th anniversary. Plans were still being developed, but the company is pondering a yearlong celebration.

While 2008 is shaping up to be a momentous one, Cellular South may be hard pressed to top 2007. This year, the company opened its new emergency command center in downtown Jackson, moved into its new headquarters on Highland Colony Parkway in Ridgeland, made a major investment to upgrade its equipment and infrastructure and rolled out new services and products.

“It’s definitely been a busy year,” says Jim Richmond, Cellular South’s director of corporate communications who has been with the company for 17 years now. “We’ve had a good year in sales, development — overall growth. And we’re going into the holiday season with a solid product line up.”

Mobile commerce

Cellular South has made headlines over the course of its history for offering new products well ahead of the curve. A good example is free incoming calls. When Cellular South introduced the plan, the industry was left to wonder how the company did it.

Cellular South is still looking to stay ahead of the pack, and has recently rolled out new products and services that puts it at the fore of mobile commerce.

The newest launch is Pic Sender. One problem with taking pictures using a cell phone is getting it off the phone. Because transferring images is cumbersome and, in some cases, inefficient or impossible, Cellular South has developed Pic Sender, which will allow users to automatically send photographs from the phone to predetermined destinations like one’s inbox or designated Web sites.

Cellular South announced PIC Sender just last week, and the company is expecting heavy interest in a product that the company says is offered nowhere else.

Yet another new product is WirelessWallet. The service allows customers to make purchases and payments using their cell phone.

In June, Cellular South began a first ever two-city (Jackson and Memphis) trial launch of WirelessWallet, which the company called a success. According to Jason Jolly, Cellular South’s director of consumer technology, the company expects to roll out WirelessWallet commercially in 2008.

Yet another future addition to Cellular South’s mobile commerce suite, which includes Obopay, the U.S. industry’s first comprehensive mobile payment service, is balance checking. Cellular South saw that many people are continually checking their bank balances. This service would allow users to check their bank account balance using their cell phone.

Jolly sees more potential for balance checking, including having the balance displayed to users on their cell phones when a purchase or payment is made. While Jolly could give no definitive date for launch, he is confident it will happen.

In fact, Jolly is excited about future mobile commerce offerings, such as event ticketing. Still, Jolly has a tough job. It would be challenge enough just to weed through all the gizmos and gadgets. But Cellular South’s strategy is to only offer services and products that are as user-friendly as possible.

“It can’t just be new, it has to be simple, too,” says Jolly, who oversees a new-product team of approximately a dozen employees. “When we launched free incoming calls, it was the same thing. We wanted to take the worry out. We said, ‘Here, take your phone. Go use it. Don’t worry about it.’”

Still building

Jolly points to another recent service that is a prime example of Cellular South’s commitment to offering new yet useable services. In October, the company launched the industry’s first unlimited nationwide plan. Users can talk anywhere in the U.S., long distance included, for a flat fee — no hidden costs or fees. Both Jolly and Richmond say the True Unlimited Nationwide Plan has garnered terrific response from customers.

To keep up with its ever-growing customer base and to support the new products and services, Cellular South has and continues to make a significant investment in infrastructure and equipment. In 2006, the company spent more than $140 million in infrastructure improvements, including the addition and activation of more than 230 new cell sites and creation of a permanent microwave ring designed to guard against the loss of service as seen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

And the investments have continued this year. Also in October, Cellular South struck an agreement with Alcatel-Lucent for $55 million worth of equipment. The network upgrade includes the deployment of third-generation CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Revision A technology, which will enable Cellular South to provide an enhanced mobile data customer experience.

Other major investments this year include the new Technical Operations Center in downtown Jackson, opened in February and designed to withstand an earthquake and up to an F4 tornado, and move into the new corporate headquarters on Highland Colony, an eight-story office with plenty of room for future growth.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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