Local T-Mobile customers should see service improvements

| Tuesday, March 22, 2011

T-Mobile subscribers could benefit the most in Western Pennsylvania, coverage-wise, from the company's deal to be acquired by AT&T, a wireless industry expert said yesterday.

Maps on both carriers' websites indicate that AT&T's voice network provides stronger service east and west of Pittsburgh than T-Mobile's, said Allan Keiter, president of consumer information site MyRatePlan.com.

Also, "AT&T has a much broader range of high-speed data, so their customers likely have a more satisfying browsing experience, as you get into the more rural areas" outside the city, he said.

The combination of the two carriers into what would be the nation's largest wireless company could improve call and mobile Internet quality for subscribers of lower-cost T-Mobile, Keiter said.

But both carriers are upgrading their networks to faster fourth-generation, or 4G LTE, service nationwide, so coverage maps could change significantly, he said.

AT&T spokesman Chris Bauer said there are no specifics yet on how the deal might impact Pittsburgh, but, "It means a more efficient use of a vital resource -- wireless spectrum -- and it means an expanded LTE footprint in Pennsylania," he said.

AT&T's 4G rollout is to cover much of the southern half of the state plus the Erie and Scranton regions by late 2013, according to a map the company provided. With the T-Mobile acquisition, the network would cover nearly all of Pennsylvania by a few years later.

T-Mobile subscribers could also benefit in terms of call quality, according to a J.D. Power and Associates 2011 performance study issued March 3. The study shows AT&T and Verizon Wireless rank highest in a tie in a Mid-Atlantic region that includes Pennsylvania. T-Mobile and Sprint rank just behind in a tie with "better than most" scores.The combination of AT&T and T-Mobile could call quality for subscribers of T-Mobile.

Among the top 27 U.S. markets, overall call quality among wireless customers is the highest in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh markets, with six problems per 100 calls. The worst was in the Washington, D.C., metro area with 18 problems per 100 calls, the J.D. Power survey said.

AT&T has 18 company-owned stores in Western Pennsylvania, Bauer said. T-Mobile has 16 local company-owned stores, but both companies also sell phones and plans through separately owned, authorized wireless stores and major retailers such as Best Buy, Wal-mart and Radio Shack.

"Until this deal is closed, we remain an independent competitor to AT&T. There is no change in service for our customers," T-Mobile spokeswoman Anna Friedges said.

Verizon Wireless, the nation's biggest carrier, also has the strongest presence in Western Pennsylvania with 150 stores, plus 590 other locations such as the Wireless Zone authorized retailers and other stores.

Competition would get tougher with AT&T and T-Mobile combining their clout in the region, said Jeff Swackhammer Jr., who owns seven Wireless Zone stores. "But Verizon has such a foothold in the area," he said.

Sprint has 15 stores in the Pittsburgh area, spokesman Scott Sloat said, and other retailers carry its products.

"A combined AT&T and T-Mobile would be almost three times the size of Sprint," which is the third-largest carrier, he said, and if the deal gets regulatory approvals two companies would control nearly 80 percent of the wireless market.

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