Cingular Expansion
by: Brian Clarke

August 14, 2005

Cingular LogoIt’s about two years after Cingular acquired AT&T Wireless. The real changes are just starting to take effect. Cingular is spending 1.5 billion dollars on network integration and expansion. They are also retaining customers better than ever before and adding new ones at very good rates.

Here in the Greater Philadelphia region, which includes Philadelphia, Northeastern Pennsylvania, and Central Pennsylvania, the network integration is scheduled to be complete by the end of this year. Integrating the new Cingular network (dubbed the Orange network) with the AT&T Wireless legacy network (dubbed the Blue network) will result in better coverage and less dropped calls. In addition, Cingular is putting up 140 new towers in this region.

There will be less dropped calls because when a Cingular phone switches from an Orange to a Blue tower in mid call today, the call is dropped. The software needed to hand off the call from one network to the other is not yet implemented everywhere. Cingular customers with newer 64K Subscriber Information Modules (SIM cards) are programmed to do this. The user doesn't even know this is happening unless their call gets dropped.

Wireless companies subscriber comparisonNew Cingular SIM cards automatically pick the network with better coverage. AT&T Wireless phone users, on the other hand, can only manually switch from Blue to Orange. AT&T Wireless phones favor the Blue network. So, even when the Orange network signal is better, AT&T phones will hang onto the Blue network. The only time when an AT&T Wireless phone will connect to the Orange network is when the phone cannot find the Blue network at all.

Leveraging the strengths of both the Orange and Blue networks will result in even greater coverage. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that my AT&T Wireless phone has benefited from the drastic improvement in service. Cingular is not only investing in its new network, they have also invested in the Blue network as well. This makes sense, because the Blue and Orange networks will become one eventually. In the Greater Philly area alone, Cingular is spending 200 million dollars on 140 new towers and network integration.

There are some downsides to Cingular, however. As of June 1st, new migration rules took affect in the Eastern and Western markets. From that point on, subscribers with a Cingular or AT&T Wireless plan are not allowed to purchase new phones at the special prices for new subscribers until near the end of their contracts. This means if you have a two year contract, like me, you would have to pay full price for a new Cingular phone, unless you was 20 out of 24 months into your contract. For one year contracts it is 10 out of 12 months. AT&T Wireless would have never done that to its customers. AT&T Wireless customers were always able to take advantage of the same deals that new subscribers get. The reason given for this rule by a Cingular salesperson is that Cingular was loosing money because too many AT&T Wireless subscribers were switching to Cingular plans.

The Cingular takeover of AT&T Wireless networks has its pluses and minuses. The major plus is the drastic improvement in network coverage and capacity. Overall, I think that the takeover was a good thing for customers of both companies, especially Cingular customers.

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Copyright 2006 Brian Clarke. All Rights Reserved.