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Cellular service zones erratic

Jan. 17, 2001

Sprint, Alltel top Waco wireless phone market



Those who have experienced it know how exasperating it is: The cell phone that worked less than five minutes ago is now unable to find a signal.

How is it possible to have already moved out of the coverage area when the blasted little machine has only traveled half a mile? Despite the many advances in technology, can the cellular phone industry still be this erratic?

This is probably a common line of thinking for Waco residents who unknowingly wander outside the coverage area of their cell phones. Half a mile may not seem very far, but it can make a big difference when one is trying to make a call from a cell phone.

In spite of the apparent inconsistencies, wireless phone services have very specific coverage parameters.

Because of these specific parameters, the coverage areas of all the service providers are very different.

'I would say that having a large coverage area along with a good, strong signal is one of the top factors one should consider when buying a wireless phone,' said Chris Martin, who is the corporate communications and public relations director for AT&T in central and south Texas.

'Having a large coverage area doesn't mean anything if there are a bunch of holes in the coverage area where you can't get a signal.'

AT&T, Alltel and Sprint are the three largest service providers in the Waco area, according to personnel at Radio Shack, which is an authorized dealer of both Sprint and Alltel wireless services.

According to their respective calling area maps, the three main wireless services have very different coverage areas that seem to cater to different needs.

Sprint's coverage area blankets all the metropolitan areas, but in between Dallas and Austin, the company's wireless service only extends out a few miles on each side of Interstate 35.

'I've never really had any problems with my Sprint service,' Brian Matthews, a Houston freshman, said.

'I have never traveled very far from Interstate 35 with it, though, so I don't know how it would do out there.'

Alltel wireless service, on the other hand, provides coverage not only along Interstate 35 and in McLennan County, but also to some of the less populated counties in the area.

'I have used Alltel for two years now and I haven't had any problems,' said Radio Shack salesman Ken Pflanz.

'I chose Alltel over Sprint because Sprint's service only extends out about five miles on each side of Interstate 35, whereas Alltel covers all of McLennan county and several surrounding counties.'

Alltel provides local calling rates from Limestone County to Hamilton County, and from Bosque County to Bell County.

'We have tried to branch our services out not only to McLennan County but to all the surrounding rural counties as well,' said Jeff Hansen, the general manager for Alltel's central Texas wireless service. 'We take pride in having a strong local footprint.'

AT&T's coverage area is the median of the three major services in the Waco area. AT&T covers all the major metropolitan areas as well as all of east Texas and McLennan County.

However, unlike Alltel, they do not include Bosque, Hamilton or Lampasas counties in their local calling areas.

'Overall, I am happy with my service,' AT&T user Sarah Phillips, a Mansfield sophomore, said.

'What we pride ourselves on is having not necessarily the largest coverage area, but having the strongest signal within our coverage area,' AT&T's Chris Martin said.

'We have the strongest network backbone of any service in the Waco area. Having a bunch of tall towers will do you no good if you are emitting a weak signal.'