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Mississippi’s C Spire Wireless Plans to Offer Gigabit Fiber to the Home Service

Phillip Dampier September 24, 2013 Broadband Speed, C Spire, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Mississippi’s C Spire Wireless Plans to Offer Gigabit Fiber to the Home Service

C_Spire_Fiber_to_the_Home_graphicC Spire, a wireless phone company serving the southeastern United States today announced ambitious plans to deploy a gigabit fiber to the home network in the state of Mississippi, now considered to be one of the worst states for broadband speed and availability.

C Spire Fiber to the Home was introduced by company executives at a news conference this morning attended by community leaders. C-Spire intends to build a fiber network offering 1,000/1,000Mbps broadband, telephone and television service at a competitive price starting in 2014 in select communities in the state.

“As a brand that’s been pushing the envelope of innovation our entire existence, it’s only natural for us to want to provide the ‘what’s next’ to the customers we serve,” said Hu Meena, president and CEO of C Spire Wireless. “The ‘what’s next’ is now here and we’re ready to release the power of 1 Gig fiber to communities that want to experience the immediate and lasting benefits of 100 times the speed and 100 times the opportunities.”

C Spire will use its existing 4,000 miles of fiber optic infrastructure now providing backhaul connectivity to the company’s cell tower network and its commercial customers. An additional 1,500 miles of fiber is scheduled for installation next year.

The cell phone company will follow the lead of Google Fiber, giving Mississippi communities a chance to compete with one another for C Spire’s fiber network. C Spire will be accepting applications from neighborhoods, towns and cities in the state presenting their best case why they should be the first to get fiber to the home service. The communities that want it most, and move quickest, will get it first, promised company officials.

rfiC Spire claimed its proposed fiber to the home network will expand faster and deeper into Mississippi than Google Fiber’s limited network in Kansas City and nearby suburbs.

“While we know some of the tangible benefits that fiber offers to individuals, families, businesses and entire communities, we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with 100-times-faster Internet,” Meena said. “Similar to the transition from dial-up to broadband, no one could fathom that people would one day be able to shop online, download software and watch endless hours of video on YouTube. The undiscovered potential of fiber is what’s most exciting and compelling about our plans.”

Competing communities will be expected to explain how they intend to cut as much bureaucratic red tape as possible to win consideration. The company’s “Request for Information” (RFI) document prominently mentions “streamlined construction,” “advantageous access to public rights-of-way,” and “an attractive local franchise agreement” as the types of help most needed from local governments.

C Spire will likely not entertain franchise proposals that require the company to serve every possible resident. C Spire’s fiber business plan depends on rolling out the service only to neighborhoods where enough demand exists.

Other conditions:

  • C Spire will not give away free service to schools or government buildings;
  • Sizable local participation in the pre-registration process is required;
  • The RFI hints that communities might be in a better position to win if they waive permit fees, issue permits within five business days, offer tax waivers, don’t require a local office for customer interaction, waive any “unacceptable ordinance provision or regulation as requested by C Spire,” and aid in rallying sign-ups for the fiber service.

Competitors, including AT&T, CableONE, Suddenlink, and Comcast may raise questions about local governments committing to rally for sign-ups. Some of those competing providers may also complain about their own franchise agreements, which often require widespread service deployment whether there is established demand for service or not.

C Spire is among a handful of companies that have recognized their existing fiber-to-cell-tower and institutional fiber broadband networks are underutilized and have the capacity to support both commercial and residential broadband applications.

C Spire is expected to announce the winning communities later this year or in early 2014.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/C Spire Fiber to the Home 9-24-13.mp4[/flv]

C Spire introduces Fiber to the Home service and explains the transformational benefits fiber broadband can deliver users. (2 minutes)

Corr Wireless Acquired By AT&T; Wireless Industry Consolidation Continues

Phillip Dampier April 9, 2013 AT&T, C Spire, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Corr Wireless Acquired By AT&T; Wireless Industry Consolidation Continues

corrAT&T Mobility will acquire 21,000 Corr Wireless subscribers and spectrum owned by the Alabama-based wireless carrier in a private transaction between Corr’s parent company C Spire Wireless and AT&T.

Corr was acquired by Mississippi-based C Spire (formerly Cellular South) in February 2010 as the carrier sought expansion into northeastern Alabama and western Georgia. But Corr’s network has never been upgraded beyond 2G service, and the Corr has traditionally positioned itself as a value priced feature phone provider. As its competitors have moved beyond 3G into 4G service and now pitch mostly smartphones, Corr has fallen behind.

attCorr’s coverage area has not been a priority for larger carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T. The acquisition, which includes multiple PCS and 700MHz “C-Block” licenses, will bolster AT&T’s weak coverage in the region, which includes Huntsville, Oneonta, Decatur, Cullman, Hartselle, and Arab, Ala.

AT&T is expected to decommission much of Corr’s older equipment and replace it with 4G LTE service.

Customers may not have to immediately upgrade their phones. Corr Wireless, like AT&T, operates a GSM network.


The AT&T/Verizon Wireless Duopoly: “Humpty Dumpty Has Been Put Back Together Again”

Phillip Dampier September 26, 2012 AT&T, C Spire, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on The AT&T/Verizon Wireless Duopoly: “Humpty Dumpty Has Been Put Back Together Again”

AT&T and Verizon: The Doublemint Twins of Wireless

Wireless carriers other than AT&T and Verizon Wireless have joined forces asking federal regulators to help level the playing field in wireless competition.

At this week’s convention of the newly-relaunched Competitive Carrier Association (CCA), Sprint, T-Mobile USA, Clearwire, C Spire, and more than 100 other small regional rural carriers joined forces in Las Vegas to sound the alarm about a wireless duopoly restraining competition and raising prices for consumers.

“Humpty Dumpty has been put back together again,” said C Spire CEO Hu Meena. “And while the identical twins sometimes agree to meet and discuss industry issues with other industry players, they seldom, if ever, support action that might better the industry as a whole.”

C Spire should know. The company filed a lawsuit against AT&T earlier this year claiming the phone giant manipulated its 700MHz band allocation to lock C Spire customers out of getting access to the latest smartphones.

“At some point, and that time is coming, regulators and politicians are going to have to acknowledge they have a choice to make: they are going to have to decide whether the communications industry, the fundamental driver of the information economy, is going to be regulated by true, healthy competition or by the government,” Meena said.

In the last 20 years, rampant consolidation has reduced the number of national wireless carriers down to four — Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Filling in the gaps are various regional providers, all who depend on one of the major four to provide reasonable roaming service for customers traveling beyond the service areas of smaller companies. Without reasonable roaming, competitors are left at a serious disadvantage.

Another major problem is access to the latest smartphones. Major manufacturers largely design and market cell phones for the largest four companies, often relegating smaller providers to sell older or less prominent phones to customers. When phones do not work on the spectrum acquired by smaller competitors, roaming becomes a problem.

But beyond those issues is the question of wireless spectrum. Traditionally sold in competitive auctions, the deepest pocketed companies traditionally win the bulk of frequencies, leaving competitors with less desirable spectrum that has difficulty penetrating buildings or requires a more robust cell tower network.


Members of the CCA recognize that mergers and consolidation can bring costs down through economy of scale, but in their eyes, AT&T and Verizon’s actions have promulgated a new paradigm for wireless on Wall Street: consolidation around a handful of wireless carriers is healthy; having too many competitors is inefficient.

“Consolidation can introduce business efficiencies,” said Michael Prior, CEO of Atlantic Tele-Network. “But government has a role in making sure that infrastructure is used in a way that works for the entire country. All we’re asking the FCC to do is to make sure there is a level playing field.”

Observers expect the CCA to ask the FCC to set aside spectrum in future wireless auctions exclusively for smaller carriers to help protect what competition still exists.

“There used to be dozens of railroad companies,” Prior noted. “But the government didn’t allow certain companies to develop rails that wouldn’t allow trains to interconnect to rails run by other companies.”

Meena warned the same thing could happen in the wireless industry.

“We know what happened in the first 20 years of the industry where we have had many healthy competitors,” Meena said. “There remains a false hope among too many carriers that the duopoly will one day become reasonable. But, we all know, whether we choose to admit it or not, that until all competitive carriers become fully committed to work together for open competition, the wireless industry playing field will remain harmfully tilted toward the duopoly. They will never give an inch unless and until they have to do so.”

AT&T & Verizon’s Artificial Wireless Fiefdoms: Interoperability is the Enemy

Phillip Dampier June 5, 2012 AT&T, C Spire, Competition, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on AT&T & Verizon’s Artificial Wireless Fiefdoms: Interoperability is the Enemy

The arrival of the LTE/4G wireless standard in the United States, and its adoption by the country’s two largest super-carriers AT&T and Verizon was supposed to open the door for true equipment interoperability, allowing customers to take devices purchased from one carrier to another. In the past, incompatible network standards (GSM – AT&T and CDMA – Verizon Wireless) made device portability a practical impossibility. The arrival of LTE could have changed everything, with device manufacturers using chipsets that would allow an iPad owner to switch from Verizon to AT&T without having to purchase a brand new tablet.

A new lawsuit filed by a small regional cell phone company alleges AT&T conspired to create their own wireless fiefdom that would not only discourage their own customers from considering a switch to a new carrier, but also locked out smaller competitors from getting roaming access.

C-Spire, formerly Cellular South, filed suit in U.S. federal court accusing AT&T and two of their biggest equipment vendors — Qualcomm and Motorola, of conspiring to keep the southern U.S. carrier from selling the newest and hottest devices and hampering their planned upgrade to LTE. The company also accuses AT&T of blocking access to roaming service for the benefit of C-Spire customers traveling outside of the company’s limited coverage area.

According to the lawsuit, the interoperability benefits of LTE have been artificially blocked by some of America’s largest carriers that force consumers to only use devices specifically approved for a single company’s network.

Divide Your Frequencies to Conquer and Hold Market Share

The Federal Communications Commission licenses wireless phone companies to use specific frequencies for phone calls and data communications. An industry standard group, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), is largely responsible for defining the standards of operation for wireless technology networks like LTE. In the United States, the group is dominated by the two largest cell phone companies and the technology vendors that make their living selling chipsets and phones to those major carriers.

Smaller carriers specifically bought spectrum near frequencies used by larger companies AT&T and Verizon with the plan to sign roaming agreements with them. But now Verizon is selling off its "Lower A, B and C" spectrum and intends to focus its LTE network on Upper C "Band 13," which it occupies almost exclusively. Meanwhile, AT&T has carved out its own exclusive "Band 17" for its Lower B and C frequencies where it will be able to effectively lock out other carriers. (Cellular South is now known as C-Spire).

It is 3GPP that elected to organize wireless spectrum into a series of frequency “blocks” and “bands” that different companies utilize to reach customers. Verizon Wireless, for example, has its 4G LTE network on a large chunk of the 700MHz band known as the “Upper C-block” or “Band 13.” Verizon earlier won control of some frequencies on the lower “A and B blocks,” which gave smaller companies the confidence to invest in adjacent frequencies, believing they would be able to negotiate roaming deals with Verizon.

Verizon has since elected to mass its 4G LTE operations on its “Upper C block,” and is selling off its lower “A and B block” frequencies. That leaves Verizon with overwhelming control of “Band 13.” The companies manufacturing equipment sold by Verizon are manufacturing phones that only work on Verizon’s frequencies, not those used by Verizon’s competitors. This effectively stops a Verizon customer from taking their device (and their business) to a competitor’s network.

This limitation comes not from the LTE network technology standard, but from the wireless companies themselves and equipment manufacturers who design phones to their specifications.

It would be like buying a television set from your local NBC station and discovering that was the only station the set could receive.

Verizon effectively created its own wireless “gated community” comprised of itself and a single tiny competitor still sharing a small portion of “Band 13.” AT&T was stuck in a considerably more crowded neighborhood, sharing space with more than a dozen smaller players, some who have a clear interest in being there to coordinate roaming agreements with AT&T to extend their coverage.

Regional cell phone companies could not exist without a roaming agreement that lets customers maintain coverage outside of their home service area. Without it, customers would gravitate to larger companies who do provide that coverage.

But large companies like AT&T and Verizon also have a vested interest not selling access to the crown jewels of their network, giving up a competitive advantage.

AT&T noticed its larger competitor Verizon Wireless had effectively segregated its operations onto its own band, and if that worked for them, why can’t AT&T have its own band, too?

Using a controversial argument that AT&T needed protection from potential interference coming from television signals operating on UHF Channel 51, located near the “A Block,” AT&T managed to convince 3GPP to carve out brand new “Band 17” from pieces of “Band 12.” Coincidentally, “Band 17” happens to comprise frequencies controlled by AT&T.

C-Spire alleges AT&T has since asked manufacturers to create devices that only support “Band 17,” not the much larger “Band 12,” effectively locking out small regional phone companies from LTE roaming agreements and the latest phones and devices.

Not surprisingly, Qualcomm and Motorola, who depend on AT&T for a considerable amount of revenue, fully supported the wireless company’s plan to create a new band just for itself. C-Spire’s lawsuit claims the resulting anti-competitive conspiracy has now graduated to foot-dragging by those manufacturers, reluctant to release new phones and devices that support the greater “Band 12” on which C-Spire and other smaller carriers’ 4G LTE networks reside. That is particularly suspicious to C-Spire, which notes companies manufacturing devices supporting all of “Band 12” would have automatically worked with AT&T’s new “Band 17.” Instead, manufacturers chose to create equipment that only worked on AT&T’s frequencies.

C-Spire says both AT&T and Verizon have once again managed to lock customers to their individual networks, have created artificial barriers to block roaming agreements, and have pressured manufacturers to “go slow” on new phones and devices for smaller competitors.

Driving the Competition Out of Business

LTE: Required for future competition.

Smaller carriers have always been disadvantaged by manufacturers’ exclusive marketing agreements with AT&T and Verizon that bring the hottest new devices to one or the other, leaving smaller players with older technology or smartphones with fewer features. Even worse, both AT&T and Verizon have forced manufacturers to enforce proprietary standards that make it difficult for consumers to leave one company for another and take their phones with them. C-Spire and other regional companies have primarily managed to compete because they often sell service at lower prices. They have also survived because roaming agreements allow companies to sell functionally equivalent service to customers who do not always remain within the local coverage area.

But recent developments may soon make smaller competitors less viable than ever:

  1. AT&T’s spectrum plans make it difficult for smaller companies to use their valuable 700MHz spectrum, the most robust available, for LTE 4G service. Instead, companies like C-Spire will have to use less advantageous higher frequencies at an added cost to remain competitive in their own local markets.
  2. Equipment manufacturers, who answer to the billion-dollar contracts they have with both Verizon and AT&T, remain slow to release devices that work on smaller networks, leaving companies like C-Spire without attractive technology to sell to customers.
  3. The ultimate refusal by AT&T and Verizon to allow LTE roaming or make it prohibitively expensive or technologically difficult to access could be the final blow. Why sign up for C-Spire if you can’t get 4G service outside of your home service area? C-Spire admits in its lawsuit it cannot survive if it cannot sign reasonable roaming agreements with AT&T or Verizon.

Cspire complaint filed against AT&T, Qualcomm and Motorola

Cellular South Becomes C Spire Wireless: Offers Unlimited Data Plans, Sort Of…

Cellular South, a regional wireless provider serving Mississippi, western Tennessee, and parts of Florida and Alabama, relaunched operations this morning as C Spire Wireless.

Company officials claim C Spire will be the first carrier to offer “personalized wireless services” that will adapt to customers based on how they use their phones and other  devices.

“We have entered a new era in wireless – an era centered on broadband networks, mobile computing devices and now personalized services. Completing calls is only a small part of what we deliver our customers,” said Hu Meena, president and CEO of C Spire. “Since 1988, our main focus has been on providing exceptional service for our customers and their wireless needs. Those needs have changed dramatically and will do so at an even more rapid pace in the future.”

Among the changes underway across the mobile industry is an effort to end unlimited wireless data plans for smartphone customers, but that won’t be the case at C Spire, which is retaining unlimited smartphone data usage for many of its service plans, sort of.

“C Spire understands that when customers have to measure and limit their data, they aren’t getting the optimal experience with their wireless provider. That’s why the company is introducing Individual and Family Choice Plans that offer customers the ultimate in choice and flexibility, and access to infinite data,” the company said in a statement.

But there is a major catch — that “infinite” data usage does not include streaming multimedia content.  That comes extra: priced free through October 29. Then 2 hours for $5, 5 hours for $10, or unlimited usage for $30.

How many "percs" can I win picking out the sloppy spelling errors on C Spire's website?

C Spire does away with counting megabytes or gigabytes and asks customers to guess how many hours they expect to use streaming media applications on their phones. That means customers will pay $50 a month for C Spire’s Choice D 500 plan, which includes unlimited web browsing and e-mail, plus 500 talk minutes per month.  But if you want to listen to unlimited online radio or stream video, that price increases to $80 a month.  But that $80 does buy an unlimited experience at that point.

C Spire’s pricing reflects the failure of strong Net Neutrality protection, allowing carriers to charge extra for different types of content on its network.

Wireless mobile broadband customers still face a cap on C Spire’s data-only plans: 1GB for $19.99, 3GB for $29.99 or 5GB for $49.99.

Users must spend at least 50 percent of their usage during the month within a C Spire service area.  Excessive roaming can get your service suspended.  As a regional carrier, that means “home usage” is limited to a handful of southern states.

But company officials are spending little time discussing their pricing and plans, instead focusing on how C Spire will “personalize” the wireless experience.

No other wireless provider understands its customers and adapts to their wireless needs like C Spire. Customers will see this unique personalization in apps and content that fit who they are, services that anticipate their needs, and rewards they’ll get just for using their phone in new ways. C Spire’s industry-leading personalization capabilities are powered by Pulse, a proprietary system that enables the company to understand and develop a closer relationship with its customers. In turn, C Spire recommends and provides the right selection of technology experiences tailored for each customer – giving them unmatched wireless personalization.

C Spire offers what they are calling “percs” — points that customers can collect based on interacting with the company’s website and social media platforms, the number of years they remain loyal to C Spire, and opting into company research programs including their Scout Program, which track apps usage.

The rewards on offer at the moment are not impressive — waiving late bill payment fees, priority access to customer service, feature upgrades, and discounts on accessories and shipping.

The company’s website has been unresponsive at times this morning and customers on C Spire’s Facebook page are complaining they are confused about pricing and plan changes, particularly those related to streaming data usage.

C Spire's Rewards Program

[flv width=”480″ height=”290″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/C Spire Ads 9-26-11.flv[/flv]

Magic Sparklies: The wireless company’s new advertising campaign introduces Cellular South’s new brand: C Spire Wireless (1 minute)

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