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Buyout by Verizon means Alltel customers will need new phones

Is your Alltel cellular phone contract terminating by year's end? Prepare to look for a new cell phone sooner than you might have expected.

With Verizon's purchase of Alltel in January, 10 million Alltel customers will likely see their old phones end up on the junk heap. As Alltel's operations switch to Verizon (now the largest wireless carrier in the country with 89 million subscribers), Alltel customers will be required to decide wether to go with Verizon or some other carrier.

At that point, Verizon says the Alltel customers — except on a "case-by-case basis" — will be required to get new phones. So for any Alltel customers who have held on to those giant, military radio-sized phones, your days are numbered.

To be clear, your current contract remains in effect until the end of your agreement.

Still, Alltel customer George Dolan was a bit disturbed by it all. "Why do I have to buy a new phone?" he asked.

Well, there are several reasons, best explained with the technical term "mumbo jumbo."

There are some issues with the so-called Preferred Roaming Lists or PRLs, which deal with the frequencies a particular phone can use in various areas around the country to get reception. But overall, the merger will increase the coverage area for Verizon and Alltel customers. For example, Alltel has a stronger network in the Florida Panhandle. Now that will be a part of the Verizon network.

But the real story is Verizon will capitalize on the transition and get you into new equipment, which can cost as little as nothing up to the hundreds of dollars.

Don't panic. It won't immediately affect Alltel subscribers.

"Nobody's going to shut down their phones by the end of this year," says Chuck Hamby, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless.

Hamby offers this as comfort: When the time comes, "they would have the opportunity to take advantage of any promotion just as anyone else" when finding a new phone.

Truth is, Alltel customers will have more to consider when their contracts end than they did in the past, whether the contract ends today or a year or two from now.

Contracts that end now can be renewed through Alltel, but by the end of the year, that offer will not be available as all billing and other services will switch to Verizon.

Those opening new accounts must consider that a phone purchased through Alltel today might require the purchase of another one through Verizon this time in a year or two.

So here's the Edge:

• Choose phones and carriers carefully. Consumer Reports says most phones work only with specific networks, so your choice of a carrier will dictate which phone models you can consider.

• Think twice about signing an Alltel agreement now. Although Alltel stores are open and will sign you up, Verizon has taken over that company, and you might do just as well to sign up with Verizon now, but shop around.

• Know what you want the phone to do. When buying a phone, think about the services you want the phone to perform for you, whether just voice or more elaborate services such as banking, Wi-Fi, GPS navigation, etc. These sites can be helpful: www.myrateplan.com, www.phonescoop.com and www.cnet.com.

• Don't throw away your old phone. Cell phone companies have recycling programs that will take your old phone.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.

Buyout by Verizon means Alltel customers will need new phones 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 11:24pm]

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