420,000 U.S. Cellular customers soon must make a choice: Join Sprint or find a new provider


In the next few months, 420,000 U.S. Cellular customers in the Midwest will find themselves without a mobile network. Sprint(s s) on Friday closed a $480 million deal with U.S. Cellular(s usm) that will hand all of the latter’s spectrum in Chicago, St. Louis and the surrounding regions into Sprint’s waiting arms.

This is no mere transfer of network title, though. Sprint plans to shut down U.S. Cellular’s network completely some time in those two metropolitan regions in the next several months (Champagne, Ill., and South Bend, Ind., will also be affected). And despite the fact that U.S. Cellular’s systems uses the same CDMA technology in the same PCS frequencies, Sprint isn’t supporting its existing handsets. All of those customers must either start over with new devices and new service plans on the Sprint network or go find a new mobile operator entirely.

Sprint Regional VP for the Midwest Kevin Gleason told GigaOM that Sprint planned to make the transition as easy as possible for U.S. Cellular’s customers by offering them plenty of incentive to move to Sprint.

“I believe our recapture rate will be high,” Gleason said. “We’ve already started communicating with them and several of them have already made the switch.”

Sprint has sent out an initial batch of letters notifying them about the transaction but Gleason said Sprint will soon follow up, detailing the timing of the network shutdown and the discount offers Sprint is making to draw those customers under the Sprint umbrella.

While Gleason wouldn’t give any specific details on the exact amount of the discounts, he said they would take many forms: device discounts over Sprint’s usual subsidies, trade-in fees for older phones, porting credits for making the switch and activation fee waivers.

sprint-iphoneMany customers will be able to get new phones and comparable service plans without having to pay a dime, he said. Many will also be able to upgrade to fancier devices such as the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S 4 for a much lower than price than other customers would pay, Gleason said. He added that switching customers would also have a great deal of flexibility in plan choices, since Sprint is extending the discount offers to its Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile prepaid brands as well.

In general, Sprint and U.S. Cellular’s contract plans are comparable, and in the case of its unlimited data plans, Sprint is actually cheaper. But depending on the circumstances, not every customer will be getting an equitable deal.

For instance if you happen to have just bought a new high-end smartphone or tablet, Sprint incentive discounts won’t cover the full cost of replacing it. What’s worse is that brand new smartphone essentially become useless in a few months when the Chicago and St. Louis networks go dead (though it would work on U.S. Cellular’s other networks). Some customers may also balk at the idea of signing new two-year contracts if they want to take full advantage of the discount offers.

Gleason acknowledged that some customers will feel like they’re getting a raw deal, but he expects those cases will be kept to minimum. He pointed out that 60 percent of U.S. Cellular customers in affected cities have let their contracts lapse and the large majority of them use feature phones. Those subscribers are ripe for an upgrade, he said.

U.S. Cellular FieldThat’s one of the main reasons why Sprint opted for a wholesale replacement of U.S. Cellular’s networks and devices, rather than a gradual phase out like Sprint is doing with its Nextel iDEN network, Gleason said. So many of those U.S. Cellular devices are old or obsolete that it decided to start fresh with phones optimized for Sprint’s new Network Vision architecture, which boasts the most up-to-date CDMA and LTE technologies.

We’ll know more details about the sunset timeline and the specific discounts in the next couple of weeks. And if you’re a Chicagoan, you’re probably wondering what will happen to the name of U.S. Cellular Field, the home of the White Sox, now that the carrier is leaving the city. Well, it won’t become Sprint Field. Gleason said U.S. Cellular is keeping the naming the rights.

U.S. Cellular Field hoto courtesy of Shutterstock user Alan Mars



I have been a US Cellular costumer for 18 years. I have now changed to Verizon. SPRINT SUCKS


I’m one of those that seem to buck many of the comments here- I’ve had terrific service from Sprint whenever I’ve had to contact them (which hasn’t been too often). While I was disappointed with the original 4G network i.e. having to pay for it and not getting it in my locations unless I traveled to Chicago or other other major cities that had it, overall, I’m happy with my unlimited data and text. OTOH, one of family businesses use Verizon and they can burn in hell. My 86 year old father went in to get a handset that had blue tooth and handsfree to work with his new car and they sold him a phone, a wireless blue tooh speaker phone and a air card. When I took him back to return all of the “extras” they sold him they charged a restocking fee. I had Verizon years ago and had nothing but headaches from them. Thank you, I’ll keep my Sprint plan. And no I do not work for Sprint and work in the legal insdutry.

Lyn Bondoc

Wow, I am not the only one who despise Sprint. That just goes to show how bad of a company Sprint is. I can’t believe they have gotten away with all those practices for such a long time now. I hope they go down. SPRINT ARE LIARS!!! To the people thinking about switching to Sprint, please DON’T. Go with Verizon and AT&T and if you have T-Mobile coverage in your area, T-Mobile is actually very good. Please avoid Sprint!!!


This sucks bad…sprint sucks in our area..everyone I know that has there service hates it..dropped calls all the time and no reception if you go even a mile out of town…I ABSOLUTELY hate sprint…will definitely find a new carrier!!!!!!


I have had sprint for 10 years. unlimited data….btw us cellular DOESN’T offer. no major problems just misc. like any other provider. the reality is, life goes on. change providers if you “hate” sprint OR put your money where your mouth is and BUY OUT US CELLULAR!

Steve Nesbitt

Is this deal holding up the rollout of 4G LTE on Sprint in Central IL? Verizon and AT&T have it across the region and we’re still waiting on Sprint. Our Sprint 3G speeds have improved this year in from basically squat, so that is good here in Champaign. My contract is up in December and if they don’t have 4G when I get a new phone, I’m off to greener pastures…


Sprint in the St. Louis market is terrible! What good is unlimited data when you can’t get a signal. Get it together Sprint!


U.S. Cellular customers can simply change their home coverage to Wisconsin or Rockford, IL and use e-bill to get their statements and pay their bill. The USC phones will roam without any problems and with USC, customers don’t pay roaming fees.


I live in Wonewoc WI, and Im just wondering…does anyone know if I will be affected with my us cellular service here? I have a prepaid us cellular phone and just wanna know if I will need to get a new phone or if it won’t even touch my area. Btw it would really suck if I need to because T-Mobile doesn’t work in my area and neither does sprint, Verizon, straight talk At&T…pretty much nothing but U.S. Cellular works around here.


I have sprint now and they suck ass!!!!!! this guy must be the only one in the world to say anything good about sprint. I was going to go with U S cellular but I found out crappy sprint is taking over some markets and now I will not be going with them. I cant say enough bad things about sprint. DROP CALLS.>>>NO DATA SERVICE ANYWHERE>>>>>>AND THEY REALLY DON’T GIVE A CRAP ABOUT THEIR CUSTOMERS AT ALL!!!!! DO NOT GO WITH SPRINT!!!!!! YOU WILL BE SORRY IF YOU DO>>>


I have had sprint FOR 14 YEARS!! In the beginning of those years, I used to think sprint was great. Recently, in the past 6-9 mnths, I have found out that SPRINT NO LONGER CARES FOR THEIR CUST. And my texts dont go through a 3rd of the time & calls are DROPPED CONSTANTLY!!! I do not have smart phones. I have 5 phones. Sprint has said the reason that I am having issues is that I don;t have smart phones. Well I dont use the internet on my phone, so why do I need to upgrade??? I said that if I get a smart phone & they will NOT CHARGE ME $20 MORE PER PHONE, I would do that. THEY WILL NOT DO THAT!!. So I was told that I WILL EITHER HAVE TO UPGRADE OR JUST DEAL WITH DROPPED CALLS, ETC. Well my contract runs out with them on July 25th. AND I AM LEAVING THEM!!! Their cust sevice is bad as always & they don’t care for the people that have been with them for so many years!!! I am counting the days until I no longer have to be with sprint!!! Beware for any of sprint customers who do not have smart phones… they dont care ABOUT YOU!!!. I am thinking that it is possibly lawyer time, since they are not keeping up with THEIR PART OF THE CONTRACT!!!!!! BEWARE OF SPRINT!!!!!!

Dgl oklahoma

Is Sprint to take over all of uscellular eventually. Hope not have new phones and enjoy the company policies network and reliable phone calls


I hope sprint goes bankrupt. They are awful. Worst service I ever had. They were so bad in Chicago that I had to file a bbb complaint to part ways after 8 months of “tower upgrades”. Switched to Verizon 10 months ago and couldn’t be happier.

Connie Vick

That’s straight up bullshit that US CELLULAR did NOT forewarn customers who were in the process of purchasing new phones. I get it that Sprint has lousy service based on the comments above but US CELLULAR didn’t show any loyalty to THEIR customers now either!
I wonder if the same thing is going to happen to us here in KS…I have been with US CELLULAR since before they were USC! They used to be Cellular One! I WAS going to go get a new phone in the next few days, but maybe I should check craigslist in Chicago and St. Louis…I’m sure there’ll be a lot of phones going up for sale soon…
BAD BUSINESS USC to do this to your LOYAL customers! Shame on you and you should be reimbursing customers who bought a new phone within the last 8 months at least 1/2 of what they paid for their new phone! And ALL of it if bought within the last 3 months! You really think the customer is going to want the new phones as KEEPSAKES!


I Loved U.S. Cellular. They could have raised all our prices $10/month and we would have stayed with them. I think we are so loyal it would have been a win-win.


Sprint is my arch nemesis. They’ve screwed me over big time. I had nothing but problems with their service and they put me through the wringer. Unfortunately, they can afford to screw me over and I can’t afford to take them to court. I went back and forth with them and the better business bureau, but Sprint lied and it got me nowhere. I will never give them another dime of my money.


I have been a US customer since 1996. I Love them! They were not in the Peoria area when I moved here 7 years ago but since are HUGE here. I was shocked when I received the letter saying that I had to switch. I spoke with someone from their customer care dept and explained my situation. I was told they would Love to keep me however, I would have to change my number. I’ve had it before then as I was a Prime Co customer when US bought them out. Service has Never been a problem and I have Never had a dropped call in all of those years. I’m very torn as what to do. Sprint or Verizon. I wish I could keep my number or they could have just asked us what we wanted to do. I did ask why they left the Chicago Markets. The reply was they didn’t have the loyal customer base they used to. Too many jumpers from T Mobile to Att to Sprint and back. They are looking for loyalty as I had been for all those years. Chicago wasn’t loyal to them well not enough of us I guess. Two of my best friends have them as well one has went to Sprint already and the other hasn’t made a decision yet either. It’s very Sad is all I can say in about 2 weeks my phone will be shut off if I don’t decide. It’s so very sad to me. :( Very Sad US Customer who Loved them!


A,(if you can still read this), you need to change your phone number to area code 309, for the Peoria area. USC is NOT leaving the Peoria area, but the Chicago/St. Louis/Bloomington IL/Champaign areas.
My wife is a happy USC customer in the Peoria area. She did not get any letter.
Your giveaway was the PrimeCo info(which was a Chicago area provider).

Just go to a USC store in Peoria area, to convert over.


And another thing, The government wouldn’t let at&t purchase tmobile but sprint can buy u.s cellular? what a hypocritical country we live in.


Sprint is quite a bit smaller than At&t in terms of coverage and subscribers. Letting At&t purchase T-Mobile would essentially create a duopoly between them and Verizon, which would eventually squeeze out the competition and create havoc with pricing. Sprint did not buy US Cellular, it bought parts of it’s spectrum in certain market areas. The two situations are vastly different.


I have had US Cell for almost 9 years now and they do this to us… wtf… is wrong with them… I do not understand how such a BIG NAME like US CELL can just drop all of us and get away with it … I fell so sorry for the people that just got new phones, I just got phones last year not as bad as people who just bought one… that sucks for you guys sucks for us all… I love U S CELL but now this I feel like SUING them for this there is no reason for this…. I am one of the unhappy people losing my phone service I have paid for all these years and never missed a bill like so many others out there I -we have paid alot for this service and to be told to oh well to bad you have to get new phones and ohhhh sorry no breaks for that and we will just shut your phones down when we get a date dont no when it will be but it will happen so you better hurry and buy your new phones today…. I am just at a loss for words that I can type on here I scream them in my living room but I better not type them on here… they may shut my phone off tonight… clase action law suit… who s on


Fred G. Sanford

For over 20 years Sprint service has been virtually non-existent in my area. I live in Chicago, one of the largest cities in the country and I get better reception on a country road in Ohio than I do in my neighborhood. Complaints are met by the same company line: we’re upgrading our towers in your area, a process that began in March of 1875 and should be completely shortly. The exact same areas are known to be dead zones and consistently drop calls. What do they do with their profits?


As mentioned, only some will get a decent discount for new phones..but what good is a fancy new smartphone on a network with constant dropped calls and poor customer service!?!…US Cell customers run away from Sprint…You’re better choices are Tmobile or Verizon.

Happy Former Sprint Customer


What a crock! Just called running my credit spending hundreds of dollars for new phones and off shore customer service rep who doesnt understand what is foing on.
Thanks US Cellular for screwing the Chicagoland Market!


Had sprint before, sucked then and it looks like they suck now. We’ve been with US Cellular for over 8 years and never had ONE problem. Just compared plans to what we have now (and in fact, I cant even GET 6 lines with Sprint) so 5 lines unlimited everything with all smartphones is going to cost me damn near $600 a month!!! AND I have to pay to replace all my smartphones?! Are you insane!?! and on top of that I get to deal with the sh** for brains sprint customer service? no thanks! I’ll be finding a new company. I hope Sprint falls flat on their faces with this deal. way to screw your new customers over from the get go! Just goes to show they havent changed their ways from when I had them before.


we’re screwed. glad we didn’t just buy new phones. several of our friends have…. and no one can match US cellular’s SIGNAL STRENGTH and Fantastic customer service. We are soooo bummed that US Cellular sold us out. It figures. If corporate america can screw things up by making bad decisions, they will. Now I am gonna have to climb a ladder and hang on to the roof to stay connected to my calls. WHY did you do this to us, USC????

Andrew J Shepherd

Kevin, contrary to the statement in your article, Sprint is not shutting down USCC’s existing networks in the affected markets in the Chicago and St. Louis MTAs. USCC, itself, is doing that deed. And I was just in the FCC ULS database earlier today and found a filing in which Sprint is leasing the acquired spectrum back to USCC during this transition period.

So, Sprint’s purchase price includes only spectrum and subs, not control over any infrastructure. Following my S4GRU article on the transaction last fall, I posted this interesting little tidbit:

“…when USCC bought PrimeCo’s Chicago assets from a private equity firm in 2002, USCC paid $610 million. Now, Sprint is buying effectively all of that and more for $480 million. Missing from this deal, of course, is any network infrastructure, but Sprint does not need a redundant network. In the end, entering its home market looks to have been a bad financial proposition for USCC.”



Kevin Fitchard

Fair point AJ,

Sprint is buying the spectrum, not the infrastructure, but it amounts to the same thing. As soon as the lease runs out the network is effectively shut down since USM has no right to the spectrum any more. Could have been more careful with my wording, though, you’re right.

John Nemesh

As someone who has benefited MULTIPLE times from Sprint’s excellent customer service, I can honestly say that these customers have absolutely NOTHING to worry about! Sprint, unlike Verizon and AT&T, has no intention of becoming a “gatekeeper” to the internet. They have never blocked ANY app from running on their networks! They have some of the best plans available from any carrier, and they don’t throttle your connection or try to bill you by the byte!

I have had handsets that were technically out of warranty and not covered by insurance replaced at NO COST, I have received free replacement chargers, and I have had billing errors corrected IMMEDIATELY with NO ARGUMENTS!

I can’t speak highly enough of Sprint and their dedication to turning the company around, fixing their customer support issues (from several years back), and they are currently doing a complete overhaul of their infrastructure, making their network the MOST advanced of any US carrier. If they are offering extra discounts to help you transition away from US Cellular, you should jump on the opportunity!

Crime Scene America

My roommate had Sprint and it was nothing but problems. Dropped calls and terrible connectivity. I went with Verizon.


Wow, you must be a sales person. I had Sprint a few years ago, and regretted ever having them as my phone carrier. Dropped calls, and no calls going through. I was able to proof my case and they let me out without paying the termination fee. A year and a half ago I gave them another chance thinking they had fixed their issues. What a mistake that was. After 7 months of poor signal, and dropped calls, I opted out of the contract. This time I paid the early termination fee and went with US Cellular. There is absolutely no way I will ever go back to Sprint even though they have very competitive pricing. I would rather pay a little more for no dropped calls, and good signal. Remember, you get what you pay for. Run away from Sprint while you can. USC, you really stuck it to us.


How did you provide proof and get out without paying the termination fee?
I want out of sprint so bad!! And it’s bc of the same reasons. I have tried to find people to take over my contract but it never works out.
Any suggestions???


Sounds like a sprint douchebag talking up his employer to me?


sorry to say but you must be brain dead to say that sprint is good and that their customer service is excellent!!!!! come on your as full of crap as Sprint is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Sprint customer service is the worse!!! What are you talking about? You obviously work for them or something. I do not recommend Sprint at all. You get cheap service overall.

Lyn Bondoc

Sprint has the worst customer service!!! What are you talking about? You must work for Sprint. They are liars. We haven’t even been with them past the 14 days trial period and they were already giving us problems. Unlimited and unreliable network plus cheap customer service is all you will get. I have never experienced stress from any other cellular company. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have excellent customer service. I just don’t recommend Sprint. I should have learned from my experience with them 10 years ago.

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