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Alltel Enters 'First Of Kind' 3G Roaming Agreement

The deal will allow subscribers of Alltel's network, which operates in portions of only 36 states, to access EV-DO services throughout Sprint's nationwide network. Unlike other roaming deals, the agreement also covers voice and slower 1xRTT data service.

David Haskin

May 11, 2006

3 Min Read

U.S. Regional cellular carrier Alltel Tuesday said it has entered into what it claims is the first roaming between U.S. carriers for access to 3G EV-DO cellular data service.

The company said that it has entered the roaming agreement, which will have a 10-year duration, with Sprint. It will allow subscribers of Alltel's network, which operates in portions of only 36 states, to access EV-DO service throughout Sprint's nationwide network. The agreement also covers voice and slower 1xRTT data service.

"Everybody has roaming agreements with everybody else, but this is the first of its kind that covers voice, 1x and EV-DO service," Alltel vice president of corporate communications Andrew Moreau said in an interview. "It allows our customers to go in a lot more places and use that (EV-DO) service."

EV-DO provides typical download speeds of 500 Kbps. EV-DO service can be deployed by cellular operators like Alltel, Sprint and Verizon Wireless that use underlying CDMA technology. Alltel already has a roaming agreement with Verizon Wireless for voice access and 1xRTT.

Moreau said that Alltel customers who subscribe to most of the company's EV-DO service plans will be able to access Sprint's network at no additional charge. Sprint has been busy building out its EV-DO network nationwide and also wholesales the service to so-called Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) such as the recently-launched Helio. By contrast, Alltel operates in parts of 36 states and, because it covers only a handful of large metropolitan areas, will never has nearly as large an EV-DO footprint as does Sprint.

In a statement, Sprint also praised the roaming deal. Alltel is particularly strong in rural areas, which could benefit Sprint customers.

"The new agreement expands our current voice and data roaming relationship while providing customers greater access to services in more places," Sprint COO Len Lauer said in a statement.

Separately, Alltel also said Tuesday that it as renewed a roaming agreement with Cingular, which operates a GSM-based network that is incompatible with Alltel's CDMA network. Moreau said that a cellular company that Alltel recently acquired, Western Wireless, had built out a small GSM network, which it then made available on a wholesale basis to GSM operators such as Cingular.

Moreau said that the latest agreement continues that deal but wouldn't say what it means for the future, such as whether Alltel will get more heavily into GSM technology.

"We're keeping the wholesale roaming business going," Moreau said. "It allows us to continue to work as a GSM carrier and to look at the technology and see how it works. We'll explore whatever opportunities are out there, although there are no commitments."

Alltel recently posted yet another strong financial quarter, prompting some to question whether it's a takeover target by either Sprint or Verizon Wireless.

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