A small wireless carrier that mostly serves low-income customers in New York and Pennsylvania is shutting its doors after transferring its airwaves to Verizon, PCMag learned this week.
On Monday, we reported that Spotlight Media, controlled by the Gelfand family, was transferring chunks of airwaves to Verizon in several states. Today we heard from a Blue Wireless subscriber that Spotlight’s small wireless carrier is sending emails to subscribers that say service ends in 90 days. We confirmed with Blue Wireless customer service that the carrier is shutting down “in July,” and there would be no incentives or discounts to move to other providers.
According to an FCC filing, the company currently “provides service to a small number of customers,” and Blue’s customers and facilities will not be transferred to Verizon. However, Blue Wireless’s phones should work on Verizon’s network through the end of the year, and further if they support VoLTE (voice-over-LTE) calling.
Emails to Blue Wireless corporate and to its president, Brian Gelfand, were not returned.
According to the Buffalo News, Blue Wireless has been running since 2004 and as late as 2018, it sponsored a free Wi-Fi installation in Buffalo. The company is also known as “Buffalo-Lake Erie Wireless,” whose initials sound the same as “blue.”
This was Blue Wireless’s coverage map.
Blue offered an insanely good deal to people in its extremely limited coverage area, which was mostly Buffalo and Jamestown, NY and Erie, PA. For $20/month, you could get unlimited talk, text, and LTE data, with unlimited hotspot usage. Unlimited data costs $50/month and up on major wireless carriers, with much more limited hotspot data.
Brian Goemmer from Allnet Insights, who first notified us of the spectrum move, said Spotlight still owns some 600MHz and 700MHz licenses, which could go to AT&T, T-Mobile, or Dish.
Spotlight transferred this AWS spectrum to Verizon.
Cheer for the Little Guys
Along with the “big three” wireless providers in the continental US—AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon—there are a “little two,” US Cellular and C Spire, each with more than a million customers, and then a slew of tiny providers like Blue Wireless. These little companies often have very interesting stories. Union Wireless, in the mountain states, has been around since 1914. Cellcom, in Wisconsin, also runs a chain of coffee shops called Glas.
The smaller carriers, often called rural carriers, generally have roaming agreements with bigger carriers and have been busy figuring out how to install 4G and 5G. Last November, we reported on US Cellular’s plans to bring 5G broadband to middle America. Bluegrass Cellular, US Cellular, and Southern Linc all launched voice-over-LTE in 2018, according to Fierce Wireless.
Blue’s fate shows that companies without enough spectrum to compete in the 5G era may bow out, taking profits and leaving the bigger guys to provide service in their areas.