Big 3?

As a self-proclaimed impartial observer of the wireless industry-I criticize all companies equally-I have to say I have been getting little pleasure out of Sprint Nextel’s ongoing struggles to integrate the former Nextel Communication’s rogue customers and network technology into its more mainstream CDMA family.

Last week the carrier announced that it continued to hemorrhage its once-lucrative postpaid iDEN customers during the fourth quarter, that customer growth continues to rely heavily on less valuable prepaid and MVNO partners, and that those struggles are expected to continue in the near-term.

It’s not so much that Nextel’s once lucrative postpaid customers are fleeing-you can’t hardly blame them, seeing that the carrier is having a hard time maintaining network quality during the required rebanding process and having to deal with an increasing number of prepaid Boost customers.

What’s troubling is the impact the struggles are having on competition in the wireless industry.

It wasn’t very long ago when the wireless industry was dominated by six nationwide giants that seemed to relish one-upping each other with new pricing plans. A month didn’t go by without one of the six launching a new plan that would result in counter-moves by the competition. Often, Sprint PCS was the prime agitator.

Ah, the good ole days.

But, alas, those days are long gone; No. 1 Cingular and No. 2 Verizon Wireless continue their boring staring match and remain in lock step on pricing plans.

These days, the only pricing excitement comes from No. 4 T-Mobile USA and No. 5 Alltel with their cross-network MyFaves and My Circle offerings, and the continued expansion of unlimited calling plans from Leap Wireless and MetroPCS. But all of those carriers combined still pale in size to any one of the Big 3.

The industry and consumers need Sprint Nextel to be a strong No. 3 to bigger rivals Cingular and Verizon Wireless. We need Sprint Nextel to re-find its swagger and provide real competition to its larger competitors and a real choice for consumers. And more importantly, I need it.

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