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The C Spire Experience

The C Spire Experience

While C Spire is not perfect -- no company is -- I was very impressed with the small wireless carrier's management, its abilities to compete successfully and lead in their market area while building its personal brand. Several of the executives I met there seemed to understand the challenge from the changing technology and marketplace and larger, national players.

By Jeff Kagan
02/23/12 5:00 AM PT

A few weeks ago I visited C Spire Wireless in Ridgeland, Miss. I didn't know what to expect. It's gone through quite a few changes recently; however, I have to say it was a delightful surprise. They were impressive and friendly.

I met with the senior executives, they showed me around, we toured a retail store, they explained their strategy and answered my questions. Let me share with you some of what I learned on that visit. It is very interesting indeed.

Then in my Pick of the Week, let's take another look at LightSquared. Is it curtains for them? Not yet.

A Talk With C Spire

In 1988 it started out as Cellular South. Recently it moved its headquarters to a brand new building in Richmond, which is in a very upscale new business, shopping and living area, but that's not all. Actually if you take a closer look at the company you see constant growth and changes.

It recently changed its name to C Spire.

It's now one of only four U.S. wireless carriers to sell the Apple iPhone. It's started a unique and popular rewards program to get closer to their customers. It has the largest smartphone customer base. It's one of a very few who still has unlimited pricing plans, and more.

To tell you the truth, I learned that neighbors seemed to love C Spire. There was a connection unlike what is found at carriers like Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and Sprint Nextel.

As one of the smaller carriers, it focuses on building close relationships with customers. It offers lower prices and more benefits. Perhaps it thinks this is something that is needed. Perhaps it is. Either way, it seems to be working.

In addition, its executives and workers get involved with the community, and that may be one reason for its success.

The brand is different from the major, national brands as well. Look at the big competitors. What do you see? Large companies, but impersonal. No connection. Any money spent with them goes out of the community.

The C Spire brand has a neighborly quality about it. The money spent by its customers sticks around the community. Company workers are actually neighbors. Their income stays in the community.

According to customers I talked with, quality is excellent, and so is coverage.

It's a supporter of the local economy, which especially in these uncertain times is a big plus for both them and the community.

As crazy as that sounds, it was a breath of fresh air to visit. It felt good. They are a large, state of the art wireless company, who by the way is also a neighbor.

It has quite a few ideas in the marketplace right now. While that is good, these ideas sometimes fight for attention instead of working together. That needs to be fixed. It needs to tighten their marketing and messaging.

Besides that, it looks to be on the right track. If it wraps its arms around this opportunity, it can transform the C Spire name into a personal brand for customers.

Plans and Schemes

Look at a few things it's doing.

It's expanding its advanced mobile broadband coverage, offering faster Internet connections and improved high-speed data and multimedia to more than 1.3 million customers and businesses.

C Spire has the highest smartphone penetration rate in the U.S. wireless industry. Considering that smartphones are all we hear about from competitors, that is impressive.

Customers love the Apple iPhone. In fact they tell me after switching, they get better connections and in more places throughout the local areas with C Spire. That speaks to the value of focusing on the local market and understanding what the customer wants and where.

It launched personalized wireless services tailored for different, individual customers. This is a valuable idea -- rewarding customers with the rewards they want and choose. This is an impressive offering, although it is a bit confusing.

Will we see this rewards program spread to others in the industry? Perhaps. Then again, I said the same thing when Cingular (AT&T) started offering their 'rollover minutes' years ago, and that didn't spread. So who really knows?

I was also impressed with the management. CEO Hu Meena, Senior VP of Brand Management and Personalization Suzy Hays, and several others I met during the day seemed to understand the challenge from the changing technology and marketplace and larger, national players.

They also seem to understand the opportunity. Like everyone else they struggle with all the issues, both good and bad.

Spectrum Scrap

Let me bring something to your attention. Take a close look at Suzy Hays title again. Vice President of Brand Management and Personalization. Personalization! That says it all doesn't it?

Their thinking is in exactly the right place for this marketplace. I don't know who's idea that was, but great job.

We discussed the looming spectrum shortage for all carriers, and possible solutions. Even AT&T and Verizon are struggling trying to grab as much spectrum as they can.

However, unless we as an industry only want two carriers to choose from, we had better solve this problem and give all carriers "equal access" to all spectrum. Let them all compete on price and quality and service, not spectrum.

We discussed several industry ups and downs and coming challenges, and they have a good understanding of the changing marketplace.

I also noticed how they have an unusually loyal customer base. Not sure why, but this is a strong asset. It will be interesting to watch how they both compete and change the marketplace.

While C Spire is not perfect -- no company is -- I was very impressed with its management, its abilities to compete successfully and lead in their market area while building its personal brand.
Jeff Kagan's Pick of the Week

In my Pick of the Week, let's take another look at LightSquared. This is the new company with the bold solution for the wireless data spectrum logjam. The idea is great, but with the interference with GPS and navigation, it looks like they are in trouble.

What's next for LightSquared? Phil Falcone started this company with a terrific idea. He saw the burgeoning problem. We are running out of the ability to deliver wireless data services to a rapidly growing customer base because of smartphones.

He wanted to provide wireless broadband to smaller competitors so they could compete with AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless. He also wanted to provide additional bandwidth to the big players to fill in their gaps -- and there are plenty of gaps.

The industry-wide problem is still there and growing every day.

As for LightSquared, many say they are now toast. I don't. Whether they will become a real competitor or not is still in question, but the company is by no means done.

They have invested too much money to just walk away. They will try to find solutions. Will they acquire more spectrum? There seems to be plenty being acquired by companies like AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless.

So yes, LightSquared is under the gun. But I fully expect LightSquared and Philip Falcone to put up a helluva fight. The rest of this year will be very interesting to watch.


E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a tech analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com.


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