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SPRINT SPECTRUM CLAIMS 60,000 WASHINGTON AREA SUBSCRIBERS

Where did the 60,000 new subscribers come from that were acquired by Sprint Spectrum in its Washington, D.C./Baltimore operation?

About half were stolen from incumbent cellular operators, and the other half are new wireless users, said Scott Schelle, chief executive officer of American Personal Communications.

APC built and operates the personal communications services network in that region; it is branded Sprint Spectrum and uses Global System for Mobile communications technology.

Industry reports claim that APC acquired 3,000 new subscribers in two days after the network was activated Nov. 15. Four months and numerous exorbitant ad campaigns later, Sprint Spectrum claims to have 60,000 subscribers. APC, like other wireless operators, won’t release specific churn information.

If Sprint Spectrum nipped into the subscriber base of its two competitors, the competition isn’t complaining. In fact, mass regional advertising by the new operator may have boosted sales for everyone, say the cellular players.

“We’re seeing an increase in the awareness of wireless in general, so the timing for Sprint may just be great,” said Julie Rosenthal, spokeswoman for Cellular One in Washington, D.C./Baltimore. Growth for Cellular One in that market during the first quarter is ahead of last year’s figures, she said.

“We came off with our best year ever in the Baltimore-Washington property,” said Brett Gray, spokesman for SBC Communications Inc., which owns the Cellular One property. “We’ve seen no significant change in churn.”

Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile said neither its churn rate nor its growth rate indicates that Sprint Spectrum stole many customers.

“We have experienced unprecedented growth,” said Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile spokesman Steve Fleischer. “And our churn rate is at, or below, the level of churn from last year.”

Maybe there really is room for everyone, as industry leaders claim. Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile said it added a record 383,000 new customers by the end of the fourth quarter, and a third of those were TalkAlong subscribers. TalkAlong is the phone-in-a-box, mass merchandise item being sold by the company and its cellular alliance partners, U S West NewVector and AirTouch Communications.

TalkAlong is designed to compete with Sprint Spectrum’s low-end consumer product. Cellular One is promoting its boxed phone, Safety Link, matching price points with TalkAlong. All three operators have lists of value and business plans in addition to mass consumer items.

Cellular operators admit they are at a slight disadvantage right now, because Sprint Spectrum’s network is fully digital. That’s how the PCS operator can offer a handset that contains a built-in pager and answering machine. Sprint Spectrum’s fully digital system also supports caller identification, encryption and static-free conversations.

“When we deploy digital fully in our marketplaces, we’ll leapfrog the competition,” said Fleischer. “We have three and a half million customers, and that’s a potent edge.”

All three TalkAlong partners-Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile, U S West and AirTouch-are building fully digital Code Division Multiple Access technology into their cellular networks. The TalkAlong trio also collectively owns PCS licenses covering 57 million total pops.

SBC has committed to Time Division Multiple Access technology for its PCS network covering Memphis, Tenn., Little Rock, Ark., and Tulsa, Okla., and is expected to build digital service into its cellular markets as well.

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