It’s a long history. And certainly a complex history. But as the oldest and longest running wireless brand, Cellular One has certainly had a colorful history.
Think back to 1984. That’s when Cellular One began. Cellular One was formed and began its service in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. That service and the rights to the Cellular One name were sold from Metromedia to Southwestern Bell in 1987. In 1989, Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems and McCaw Communications formed a partnership called Cellular One Group. From the beginning, it has been a brand shared by many. In 1992, Vanguard Cellular Systems joined the Group. In 1995, Cellular One Group opened up membership in the Cellular One Group to A-side independent wireless providers – the B-side providers were usually affiliates of the local landline telephone companies. In 1995, Cellular One Group affiliates had over 5 million customers and towers that served roughly 69% of the U.S. population. Also in 1995, SNET, Southern New England Telephone (AT&T) joined the Cellular One Group partnership. Earlier in 1994, AT&T purchased McCaw Cellular and renamed all of those Cellular Ones, AT&T Wireless Services and dropped out of the Cellular One Group. Western Wireless Corporation joined the Cellular One Group partnership in 1999.
In 1998, SBC Communications purchased SNET. In 2001, SBC Communications merged with BellSouth and rebranded their wireless operations into Cingular Wireless. At that point, Western Wireless purchased the remaining partnership and became sole owner of the Cellular One Group/Cellular One brand. In 2004, Cingular merged with AT&T Wireless, who had acquired Vanguard in 1999, and the Cellular One brand was now formally reunited into a single company, Western Wireless.
Western Wireless continued to operate their 19 states of wireless operations as Cellular One while also continuing to license the Cellular One brand to many other smaller, regional, independent wireless providers. The largest of these regional independents was Dobson Cellular Communications. In 2005, Alltel purchased Western Wireless. Contingent to the approval of the Western Wireless/Alltel merger, the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice ordered that the Cellular One Group be divested and not part of the Alltel-Western Wireless merger. At the end of 2005, Dobson Cellular Communications purchased the rights to the Cellular One Group/brand and continued to use the brand themselves, plus continue to license the Cellular One brand to the other smaller, regional and independent wireless providers.
In 2008, AT&T purchased Dobson Cellular. Again, as a requirement from the Department of Justice, Dobson had to divest of the Cellular One brand assets. For a final time, the Cellular One brand was sold to Trilogy Partnership as a result of the AT&T-Dobson acquisition agreement. Trilogy Partnership, formed by the partners of the former Western Wireless Corporation, continues to believe in the brand, license the brand and promote the Cellular One brand. While smaller today than when started, the Cellular One brand is still recognized nationwide as the longest-living brand in telecommunications. And still loved by many. Today, there are two independently-owned and operated companies in the U.S. who continue to thrive with the Cellular One name.