July 11, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Regional carriers offer wireless alternatives

Related Stories

Mobile operators push 3G wireless

June 13, 2006

MetroPCS obtains Cingular air

November 29, 2004

Wireless price war hotter by the minute

February 2, 2004
Many Americans may have more choices than they realize when it comes to choosing a mobile phone carrier.

The big four cell phone carriers--Cingular Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless--are well-known throughout the country thanks to expensive marketing campaigns. "Can you hear me now?" has become synonymous with Verizon Wireless, while Catherine Zeta Jones is the face of T-Mobile.

But in some parts of the country, especially outside of large cities, wireless customers also can choose from regional cell phone carriers that offer comparable services that often match or beat the big carriers in terms of overall value.

"Regional carriers are competing by differentiating on price or offering features that the big companies don't," said Todd Rethemeier, a senior research analyst at Sur Terre/Soleil Securities.

For example, Leap Wireless' Cricket and MetroPCS both offer low-cost, flat-rate services to consumers and business customers without contracts. Cricket's service costs $30 per month for unlimited local calling within its 21-state region. For $45 a month, consumers can get an unlimited plan that offers local and long-distance calling within the Cricket region. MetroPCS offers a $30 all-you-can-talk local phone calling plan in its five-state region, and a $40-a-month plan for unlimited local and long-distance calling within the region.

SunCom Wireless, which operates in five southeastern states, also offers unlimited, contract-free plans. But its service is much pricier than what's offered by the other two companies. SunCom's unlimited in-region plan, which includes local and long-distance calling, is priced at $60 per month. It's nationwide unlimited local and long-distance calling plan is $150.

In addition to the unlimited plans, these carriers offer many of the same services and features available from the large national cell phone carriers, such as a variety of handsets, unlimited text messaging and picture messaging, popular games, ring tones, wallpapers and international long distance.

Other carriers such as Alltel, which operates in 35 states, and SunCom Wireless offer a twist on the popular mobile-to-mobile services offered by the nationwide carriers. Customers can include up to 10 numbers in their existing phone plans, so calls made to or received from these numbers don't use up minutes. What makes this different from other cell phone services is that the 10 numbers included in the calling plan can be from a different cell phone carrier's network or a traditional landline. Mobile-to-mobile services from carriers such as Verizon Wireless are only for calls made among customers who subscribe to Verizon's service.

SunCom's 10-number plan can be added to any voice plan for $5 a month. Alltel allows consumers to add the "My Circle" 10-number calling plan to any of its voice plans for free if they already subscribe to a service that costs $60 or more.

Regional carriers are competing by differentiating on price or offering features that the big companies don't.
--Todd Rethemeier, senior research analyst, Sur Terre/Soleil Securities

Alltel, the largest of the regional carriers, offers other perks--such as credit for dropped calls--that are not offered by the big phone companies. And it lets customers upgrade or downgrade their service without restarting their service contracts. Cingular and Verizon allow consumers to make changes to their plan without reopening the contract, but Sprint resets the clock on customers' contracts every time they make any change to their service plan.

"It's really about staying in touch with customers and giving them what they want," said Andrew Moreau, a spokesman for Alltel. "That's why we offer the dropped call credit and developed 'My Circle,' because our customers wanted to get more members on their mobile-to-mobile calling plans."

But regional mobile services may not be for every consumer. For one, many of the deals offered by regional carriers apply only to calls made within a consumer's town, state or region. While these geographically limited plans may work well for people who don't travel much, they can be limiting and expensive for customers traveling throughout the country or even to the next state.

Many regional players have worked out deals with national carriers to offer nationwide coverage, but these service plans come at a price. U.S. Cellular offers plans that range from 500 minutes for $40 a month to 4,000 minutes for $200 a month. Rural Cellular or Unicel, which has built its network in parts of 15 states, offers plans that range from 300 minutes for $35 a month to 2,500 minutes for $150.

These prices are comparable to what's offered from large nationwide carriers. Sprint's plans range in price from $30 a month for 200 minutes to $100 for 2,000 minutes. T-Mobile offers plans ranging from $30 a month for 300 minutes to $130 for 5,000 minutes.

Regional carriers may also be limited in the kinds of services they offer. For example, Unicel does not offer any kind of mobile-to-mobile calling plan, because its network can't support the feature. Other carriers, such as Cricket and MetroPCS, don't offer data plans. Some of the regional carriers that do offer data plans support only 2.5G speeds, unlike the big carriers, which are all upgrading their networks to 3G (third-generation) speeds.

CONTINUED: Consolidation ahead?…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
cell phone carrier, carrier, Alltel Corp., research analyst, Verizon Wireless

7 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Article Correction
I don't know about the other big carriers, but Sprint DOES offer a "dropped call credit"...I know because I've been receiving it for a while now.

To receive the credit, just dial *2 on ur phone (customer service), when the automated system answers, say "dropped call credit" and if successful, the automated system should say "sorry for the inconvience, I will credit your account for one minute at the highest local rate". This credit will appear for .50 cents on your next bill.

U don't need to talk to a customer service rep to get this and if you get transferred from the automated system, just hang up and try again. Just keep in mind that U can only get this credit about 10 times per month...after that, it will give you some error message and try and transfer you to a rep.
Posted by yellow--2008 (44 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Objective View
I have service from one of these companies. The data speeds are fast as I have EVDO in these rural areas. Also do not have the customer service issues I had when I was in a previous larger metro area. I believe that as an investor in Tech and Communications stocks, you should cover more of these players and what they are doing. Great job with the article. It is good finally seeing these other carriers make it to your Headlines. Would be nice to also feature comparisons and device reviews as well.

Thank You
Posted by technojunkie (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Objective View - Rock On
I have service from one of these companies. The data speeds are fast as I have EVDO in these rural areas. Also do not have the customer service issues I had when I was in a previous larger metro area. I believe that as an investor in Tech and Communications stocks, you should cover more of these players and what they are doing. Great job with the article. It is good finally seeing these other carriers make it to your Headlines. Would be nice to also feature comparisons and device reviews as well.

Thank You
Posted by technojunkie (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Health Issues
Have we all forgotten about the health issues of sustained
mobile usage over three minutes?

This was reported by the bbc in 2000....

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1090343.stm" target="_newWindow">http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1090343.stm</a>
Posted by Kevin Walker (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
just speculation
there has not been enough evidence to support you claims. I am not saying there is not the possiblity that there are risks there is just not enough evidence at the moment. The phone that i just got from verizon specifically mentions the study in england and says that they are just being cautious and have absolutely no evidence that there is a risk.
Posted by jdehaven46970 (11 comments )
Link Flag
Alltel's dropped call credit
The difference between the dropped call credit from Sprint and the one from Alltel is that Alltel automatically credits the account when a call is dropped. The carrier is constantly monitoring the network to ensure quality, and when it detects that a call has been dropped it credits the account. The customer doesn't have to do anything. As you've explained, Sprint's call credit requires users to dial *2.
Posted by MaggieReardon (140 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.