Digital wireless pioneer APC sells its holdings, dissolves Sprint Spectrum network fully owned by Sprint PCS

January 08, 1998|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Bethesda-based American Personal Communications LP has dissolved after giving up its minority share of Sprint Spectrum, the pioneering digital wireless network that it helped to establish.

Sprint PCS, the majority owner of Sprint Spectrum, said Tuesday that it has taken complete control of the network by acquiring APC's share.

Before the acquisition, which closed on Jan. 1, Sprint PCS had already owned 58.5 percent of Sprint Spectrum, with APC controlling the rest. The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

The deal had been in the works for some time. APC and Sprint PCS had envisioned it ever since they inked their Sprint Spectrum partnership agreement in January 1995. In November 1995, Sprint Spectrum offered the nation's first all-digital wireless phone service in Baltimore and Washington.

Patrick Bennett, Sprint PCS' vice president for the Baltimore/Washington region, said the acquisition will not affect Sprint Spectrum customer service. "We have no plans to change the way we're doing things in the marketplace today," he said.

However, the absorption of Sprint Spectrum does present Sprint PCS with at least one thorny issue. Sprint PCS' national digital network uses one technological standard for its phones, while Sprint Spectrum has used another.

Industry analysts believe Sprint PCS will try to nudge customers away from the traditional Sprint Spectrum standard, known as GSM, and persuade them to use Sprint PCS' CDMA standard. CDMA has broader use around the country, while GSM is more popular abroad.

Jane Zweig of Herschel Shosteck Associates Ltd., a Wheaton-based telecommunications consulting firm, said "Sprint PCS' commitment is to CDMA. It's an expensive proposition to support both. I can't imagine them supporting both."

Zweig said that Sprint Spectrum's customers won't be affected by this right away, but that Sprint PCS may eventually offer those customers free CDMA-compatible phones or other inducements to woo them to the new standard.

Sprint Spectrum has about 400 employees in Maryland, most of them in Bethesda. Bennett said, "We don't see anything that would indicate any significant job loss."

The swallowing of APC brought an end to an era for one Baltimore family. Wayne Schelle founded the company in Baltimore in 1989; he announced his retirement Tuesday. The XTC deal also brought the resignations of his son, Scott, and his daughter-in-law, Anne, both of whom were officers of APC.

"It was a long haul in terms of building the network," Anne Schelle said. "We launched the industry and we're really proud of that."

Pub Date: 1/08/98

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