US Cellular customers in St. Louis and Chicago only have a few more months to find a new service provider before Sprint shuts down the network it acquired in May for $480 million.
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) reminded customers on Thursday that it would begin shutting down U.S. Cellular Corp. (NYSE: USM)'s network in the St. Louis metro area, including parts of Missouri and Illinois, on October 31. Chicago will be turned down on January 31.
Sprint acquired these portions of spectrum from the regional operator's two biggest markets in May and has been notifying its customers of the plans since June. There were about 585,000 customers affected by the sale. (See: Sprint to Buy Midwest U.S. Cellular Markets.)
Sprint is eager to put this 1,900 MHz PCS spectrum to work, refarming it for its LTE buildout. As such, those customers who don't sign up for Sprint or another operator's service before the sunset date will be left without wireless service and risk losing their current phone numbers.
To woo the US Cellular stragglers, Sprint is promising exclusive device offers on its network or on subsidiary Boost Mobile, which would give them new phone at little to no cost, plus a $50 credit for their troubles. It set up a dedicated website just for them to ease the transition.
While US Cellular still operates in other markets where it, too, is working on deploying LTE, it's had a tough time competing against both bigger rivals and the prepaid value brands. The market dynamics in the US and the big operators' need for more spectrum make it a frequent candidate for future M&A deals. (See: Smaller US Operators to Become Spectrum Snacks?)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading