Sprint announced today that it closed its transaction to acquire US Cellular’s spectrum and customers in select Midwest markets, including Chicago, Springfield, Champaign, and Effingham in Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; and Benton Harbor, South Bend, and Fort Wayne in Indiana. According to Sprint, “[t]he additional spectrum will significantly increase Sprint’s network capacity and further improve the customer experience in these markets.”
We first reported on this in November last year, and the acquisition will affect around 420,000 US Cellular customers. Sprint and US Cellular have already started the process of notifying affected customers, and the two companies are offering special incentives to get US Cellular customers to switch to Sprint devices and plans with little or no upfront costs. US Cellular will not charge early termination fees for anyone in these markets who cancels their service.
Sprint has set up a special site for affected customers at sprint.com/uscellular, where current US Cellular customers in the affected markets can receive a $50 bill credit and waived activation fees when moving to Sprint.
According to US Cellular, all US Cellular retail locations in the affected area will be closed soon, with five stores in the Chicago area remaining open for only 90 days in order to provide limited account support, such as making cash payments. However, current customers can continue to use their US Cellular service until notified by Sprint that they must transition their service to Sprint. The transition to Sprint’s network will not happen automatically – customers have to be proactive about this.
Personally, I have several opinions about this transaction: First, I live in the affected area, even though I am already a Sprint customer. However, data speeds, call quality, and general network conditions have steadily declined over the previous three years, to the point of being almost unusable at times. The Sprint’s acquisition of US Cellular does not include any network equipment like towers or backhaul – Sprint is just purchasing the rights to use spectrum, and US Cellular’s existing customers. In other words, an already struggling network is about to get almost half a million more customers, which could cripple it even further. I doubt Sprint will be able to duplicate all of US Cellular’s current coverage in this area on its own, in the time it has available now. To me, this spells disaster.
Additionally, Sprint and US Cellular both run on CDMA networks. US Cellular customers can seamlessly roam onto Sprint, and vice versa. Why is Sprint making all US Cellular customers be proactive about switching devices, when it could just as easily push a PRL update to all existing US Cellular customers that will cause them to use the new network? It doesn’t make any sense, and will only make existing US Cellular customers angry.
Are you in the affected markets? What do you think?[Sprint | US Cellular]