Good year for C Spire

First, Cellular South takes on wireless giants by fighting megamerger; then it changes name to C Spire; then it announces alliance with Apple to offer iPhone 4S

<< MBJ’s Oct. 24 cover story, written by Stephen McDill, outlines how C Spire outdueled other wireless carriers around the country to offer Apple’s celebrated iPhone 4S

It was a double-barrel of news with a kick that stunned the U.S. telecommunications industry.

Cellular South, the Ridgeland-based company billed as the nation’s largest private wireless provider, announced in September that it was undergoing a massive corporate makeover.

The end result was C Spire Wireless. Analysts saw the name change as signs that the rural telecom was trying to inch away from a less regional sounding brand while simultaneously steeling itself against a rapidly evolving market that is dominated by national carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Twitter logged a few digs against the name change, with critics saying it sounded like “cease fire” and was nothing more than a marketing refresh. C Spire claims the name idea actually comes from two words. The company hopes that the new look and “personalized wireless” emphasis will inspire its customers while also reminding the employees to continually aspire to bigger and better goals.

Within a month C Spire CEO Hu Meena unveiled at least one of those goals with the announcement that C Spire had inked a coveted deal with Apple to carry the new iPhone 4S. Once again, the industry clamored to know more about the tiny telecom and its Mississippi management team.

The iPhone deal was only the fourth of its kind in the United States and supporters said it was a watershed moment for rural telecoms that had heretofore been left out in the cold while popular smartphones like the iPhone went to larger carriers.

With less than a million customers, C Spire is still small compared to regional rivals U.S. Cellular and Metro PCS and many are wondering how they managed to get the iPhone first.

C Spire has also received national attention as a main opponent of rivals AT&T and T-Mobile’s in a now-defunct mega merger. The deal was opposed as “anti-competitive” by both the FCC and the Obama Justice Department and was challenged and defeated by Sprint and C Spire attorneys.

As current president of the Rural Cellular Association, Hu Meena has made the case to Congress and various trade publications that the deal will negatively affect the way telecommunications business is done in the U.S. and could put the country back on a path to the monopolistic 1980’s when AT&T, nicknamed “Ma Bell,” controlled a vast majority of the industry.

C Spire Wireless has come a long way since its early days as a Mississippi telephone company founded by entrepreneur brothers Jimmy and Wade Creekmore. Its decision to remain private is seen by some as unique and overlooked especially from a customer service perspective.

With the iPhone deal, the company’s future in telecommunications is sure to be a hot subject for a while at least. More corporate restructuring could be on the horizon, including acquisitions or a possible public filing. The outcome of C Spire’s partnership with the 4G LTE wholesaler LightSquared will also play a huge role in network buildout as the telecom gobbles up spectrum for its data-rich product lines.

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