Sprint stirred up trouble last week when it made the unprecedented move of advising customers that it would be reducing its coverage area in Kansas and Oklahoma and relying more heavily on roaming agreements to support service in those areas.

The areas affected are largely outside of metro areas. A Sprint spokesman told NewsOK.com, a local media outlet that the move was a cost-cutting measure. Sprint also noted that most customer plans already include roaming, which means they aren’t likely to incur additional charges. But the company also noted that customers may be unable to access some voice and data services such as Sprint Mobile to Mobile and Any Mobile, Any Time and that they may experience a slower overall data speed when roaming.

The slower data rates most likely will result in areas where Sprint previously offered 3G data service but only slower data services will be available through roaming agreements. One Sprint customer already emailed Telecompetitor to tell us he was not happy about the changes. And customers aren’t the only ones who are unhappy.

In a blog post, AT&T executive Bob Quinn noted that Sprint would not have been able to make this move prior to 2010 when the FCC eliminated the Home Market Rule from roaming requirements. As Quinn explained, the logic behind that rule was that “if a carrier owned spectrum, it was good public policy to require them to build out that spectrum and therefore they should not be able to demand roaming from other carriers in those home markets.”

Quinn seems to have a good point there—although it doesn’t exactly apply to Sprint in this case because Sprint already has a network in the areas in question. That’s what makes Sprint’s move such a strange one. If it already invested to build the infrastructure, I question how much money it can really save by shutting it down, especially when you factor in the customer defections the company is likely to incur.

I’m wondering if Sprint deliberately made these moves at the backdoor of its own Overland Park, Kansas headquarters so the company could more easily keep tabs on what transpires—perhaps with the goal of minimizing future 4G infrastructure investment by relying more broadly on roaming moving forward.

Quinn’s blog post includes a map indicating Sprint’s previous and new coverage areas, including areas where it will operate its own network and areas where it will rely on roaming.

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5 thoughts on “What’s Behind Sprint Plans to Rely More On Roaming

  1. Joan, the fact is that Sprint had an Strategic Rural Alliance partner, Pioneer Cellular, that provided the 3G EVDO "home" coverage for Sprint customers in this area, and met the buildout requirements for the spectrum back in 2007. The intent of the SRA program was for the "roam" area to look and feel like their "home" area. Pioneer continues to provide 3G EVDO service throughout this area, and continues to work with Sprint on 3G services for Sprint customers.

    1. Pioneer-

      Thanks for the info. Based on what you're saying, it sounds like Pioneer provides service in the areas on the map where Sprint says it will continue to provide service but it's actually the Pioneer network underlying the service, correct? Is there perhaps a different rural partner serving the areas where Sprint says it will no longer provide service? Maybe Sprint is saving costs by ending that partnership?

  2. I live in the affected area of Oklahoma, purchased my iPhone 4S from Sprint when they got them. Yes, Pioneer does offer 3G EVDO service here, and is an excellent company, providing good service, but will I as a Sprint customer be able to continue accessing this service after March 1? Pioneer does not offer the iPhone, so I can't take it to them and become a customer. If Sprint's customers will be downgraded to 1X data service as a result of this change, then we have a problem.

    To this writer, it just appears that Pioneer saw a better offer coming in their deal with Verizon for the LTE in Rural America program, and decided to push Sprint aside. Or taking the other view, Sprint didn't like Pioneer cozying up with Verizon and decided to cut & run. Either way, Sprint's customers will lose if our service is degraded on March 1.

  3. Okay, now I am totally confused. Are we going to lose 3G coverage with Sprint or not. I've been looking at other carriers for the past week thinking I would have no choice but to switch but now I don't know. Guess I will wait it out for a week or two after March 1st and see what happens. I have a tower 3 miles to my East that I know is owned by Pioneer and live in Kansas so swithcing to Pioneer is not an option. I have a cell phone booster in my house and get 5 bars with Sprint and just had a guest who has Verizon check his and he only had 1 bar. I'm wondering if the two will switch after March 1st. If so I'll go to Verizon since my cell has replace my land line and I use a Sprint Overdrive for my home internet.

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