Alltel's Vice Prez of PR met our queries with two rather terse replies. (Since neither of which disclaimed
them to be unofficial or off the record, and we asked for a statement on the claim, we will republish them here.) The
first simply said: "Our wireless network -- built out and lit -- covers more square miles than any other
carrier. Hope this helps. Andy." And the other, sent in reply to asking for more information simply said:
"It's more s.f. covered than any other provider." That's it. Not even a "Hope this helps. Andy."
Now, we had a pretty difficult time tracking down any solid figures for square mileage covered by the big four
(and we're sure as soon as we publish this we'll get flooded with the information we're after). But from what we could
tell the biggies play in terms of millions of square miles -- not square feet. We did have some vague figures (for
example, Verizon covers "more than two million square-miles," Sprint covers "more than 2.8 million
square miles."). And, of course, measuring coverage isn't an exact science; roaming partnerships, spectrum
sharing, indefinitely dead zones or areas with just generally crappy service can make it a difficult proposition to
accurately gauge. So let's go check out the carriers' latest maps and see just how much of America these guys are
really claiming to cover. We know coverage maps aren't the benchmarks of coverage accuracy, but we think they could
help illustrate the point.
Now this Alltel National Freedom Coverage
covers some serious area. We can tell where all those roaming agreements and AMPS coverage really came in handy. Let's
look at their other map.
Here is Alltel's "native" map
. Some decent coverage of
Eastern, Mountain, and Central time zones -- even a little on the west side (if you count Nevada, anyhow). This shows
broad coverage, but obviously there's no specification between how much of this area is actually covered, and how much
is merely licensed by Alltel for coverage (i.e. "Current coverage area," "Future coverage area,"
etc.). Now let's check out Sprint's map.
So, Sprint's service map
: a lot of
coverage, but it's difficult to tell how much is roaming, and on whose network. The orange and dark green are
understood to be native to be their network, owned and operated, but how much of the rest of the green is Alltel's,
Verizon's, or another party's is not apparent. Let's see some of the others' maps for reference.
Here we have Cingular, whose very decent nation-wide coverage is also supplemented by service up in AK, down
in the 'Rico, and over in Hawaii.
Above is Cingular's Pay As You Go map,
which helps illustrate what their coverage looks like without at least some of their roaming partnerships. Very
T-Mobile's, well, you know, T-Mobile. They may
not provide the widest area of coverage, but we love 'em anyway. You don't even want to see their PAYG map.
Yeah, their Pay As You Go map
is a little rough, but hey, they're, um,
Finally, we have the mighty behemoth that is
Verizon, whose roaming coverage extends into Canada and clear up to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Nice.
Not that this has anything to do with Alltel, of course.
And, of course,
here's their prepaid coverage map. Drastically different.
So what have we learned? Well, obviously carrier
agreements and roaming makes coverage with your provider vary drastically -- literally, your mileage may vary. If
you're roaming in an AMPS only area and you've got a straight up powerhouse EV-DO device, you're out of luck -- as many
unsuspecting people have learned the hard way. And then the aspect of 3rd party coverage (companies that lease out their
own network capacity to carriers, kind of like a meta-MVNO) can make accurate gauging even more difficult. But we can't
avoid the fact that Alltel has some explaining to do, and they could start be releasing the study they're basing their
"America's Largest Network" claims on, for one. (As stated above, our request for a copy or any information
was rejected.) No more convoluted technicalities when it comes to where you get cell access -- that would be a great
start when making such superlative statements, and goes for all carriers.