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Rural Carrier MobileNation Apparently Shutting Down in January

Sue Marek
11/12/2019

Rural operator MobileNation appears to be preparing to stop providing wireless service on Jan. 7, 2020.

The company this week notified its customers via its website of the action, and it encouraged them to port their wireless phones to another wireless provider no later than Jan. 6. However, the company's website no longer carries that message and instead says only that the site is down for maintenance.

In its now-missing message, MobileNation said it would also close its retail store in Jackson, Tenn., on Dec. 6. The company said it would shutter all of its other locations on Nov. 27. The company said its authorized agent, Cash Corral, will stop taking MobileNation payments on Dec. 6.

The company's current status is unclear. A MobileNation representative reached at the company's offices in Jackson, Tenn., declined to provide any further details about the company's closing. Company executives also did not respond to Light Reading's email inquiries.

Jeff Moore, a principal analyst with Wave7 Research, first reported MobileNation's closure. Moore said that MobileNation's coverage area is the same as former prepaid operator ClearTalk, making it likely that MobileNation acquired its spectrum licenses from ClearTalk.

MobileNation provides CDMA EV-DO and 4G LTE wireless service in parts of Tennessee and Kentucky and is owned by SI Wireless. SI Wireless describes itself as a wholesale wireless voice and data provider. But it also says it provides consumer wireless service via the MobileNation brand. Besides MobileNation, SI Wireless also operates Twigby, a low-cost Sprint MVNO that has a $33 per month rate plan that includes unlimited voice calls with 5GB of data. Twigby doesn't appear to be impacted by MobileNation's impending closure.

In May 2015, Sprint listed MobileNation as one of its rural roaming partners. Sprint's rural roaming partners group was formed to help Sprint expand its LTE footprint more quickly.

SI Wireless' executive team consists of some familiar names in wireless. Terry Addington, formerly the CEO of First Cellular of Southern Illinois, launched SI in 2011. Michael Beehn is currently the CEO of SI. Previously Beehn was VP of marketing and product development at First Cellular of Southern Illinois, which was sold to Alltel in 2006. SI Wireless CTO Mike Jaksich previously worked for Bell Atlantic Mobile in the engineering department and also handled network operations for Alltel before its merger with Verizon.

Addington said in 2016 that MobileNation covered 500,000 people with LTE and had about 200 leased towers. He also said MobileNation had about 30,000 subscribers at that time.

MobileNation is one of several small rural operators that has deployed equipment from Huawei, which the US government believes is a threat to national security. Although a group of US representatives introduced legislation in the House a few months ago that would allocate funds up to $1 billion to pay US telecom operators to rip Huawei gear out of their networks, it would likely take years for these operators to rip Huawei gear out of their networks.

Having to replace Huawei gear isn't the only challenge facing MobileNation. The company, like many small operators, also faces challenges when it comes to deploying 5G, a potentially expensive proposition in terms of spectrum and equipment.

— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.

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