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Is your phone service on par?

By Derek Lazzaro

Nov. 8, 2004 9:00 p.m.

The merger of AT&T Wireless and Cingular means Verizon is no
longer the easy bet when it comes to great cell phone coverage in
the UCLA area.

For years, Verizon has offered expensive but consistently
reliable service. These plans offer fewer minutes per dollar and
their phone selection has been more limited, but the company has
also offered the best-performing network.

Now, with the AT&T Wireless and Cingular networks combined,
that lead in performance has been cut.

If Cingular is able to match Verizon in terms of network
performance, picking a phone will suddenly be more about features
and price than the ability to make a call from the depths of some
UCLA basement.

Since the merger, I have observed and spoken with several
AT&T and Cingular customers making calls on campus or around
Westwood in areas they said were previously dead spots for

Cingular regional spokesperson Lauren Garner said the company
added a cell site to the UCLA area in the last year and planned to
add two additional sites soon. She also said engineers would look
at the combined network and evaluate which areas had overlapping

Another result of the merger is that T-Mobile and Cingular will
eventually end their current antenna-sharing relationship. Garner
said Cingular will officially sell part of its network to T-Mobile
on Jan. 5, but that the sharing agreement would continue for four
years. The end result will probably not affect the average Cingular
user ““ by the time the sharing agreement ends, Cingular plans
to have added new antennas operating exclusively under its own

Verizon representative Ken Muche said his company spends about a
billion dollars every 90 days to improve its network and that the
UCLA area had seen roughly a doubling of capacity in the last two

For its part, Sprint PCS said it too had improved coverage. Viki
Soares, a regional representative for Sprint, said the company does
not have specific plans to respond to the merger. But she said
Sprint had upgraded its existing cell sites in the UCLA area over
the past couple of years and would continue to add capacity to its

The promises of the various company representatives should be
taken with a grain of salt, but anecdotal evidence suggests that
all of the companies have, in fact, improved coverage in the last
couple of years.

And adding new antennas is not the only way to boost coverage.
The phones themselves matter. I recently bought a new Verizon phone
““ the v710 ““ which allowed me to make calls from inside
several campus buildings which are dead spots for many other

The fact that all the networks have improved means users should
pay close attention to other aspects of the service ““ such as
features and cost. One of the most important new features is
Bluetooth phone-to-phone networking. The Bluetooth protocol allows
phones to directly sync their stored phone book lists with
computers, transfer pictures and use wireless microphone headsets
““ all without a cable.

At the moment, AT&T, Cingular and T-Mobile offer by far the
widest range of Bluetooth phones. They also offer the smallest
number of restrictions on what you can do with the Bluetooth
transfer capability. Many of these GSM phones allow you to freely
move data between your phone and your computer or PDA.

Soares said Sprint would soon release a phone with Bluetooth
capability ““ but she also said Sprint expects users to share
pictures and data via the Sprint network, which, unlike the
Bluetooth feature, is not free. At the moment, Verizon’s only
Bluetooth phone requires the use of a similar system. Verizon and
Sprint apparently want to make users buy a data plan if they want
to use their phone for anything other than making simple phone

On Nov. 15, Cingular will release a new lineup of phones and
service plans. Students should carefully compare features like
Bluetooth, free in-network calling and price when those plans come
out ““ the new options may or may not be compelling.

In the long run, the end result of increased competition will
probably be lower prices for users, or at least more options. And
students who previously stuck with Verizon because of its strong
network should consider looking at the GSM offerings to see if
their networks are now up to par.

Lazzaro is a fourth-year political science and psychology
student and editorial development director for the Daily Bruin.
E-mail him at [email protected]

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Derek Lazzaro
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