Sprint completes U.S. Cellular deal, adding customers

Sprint Nextel Corp. completed its $480 million purchase of a piece of U.S. Cellular’s Midwest operations, the Overland Park-based carrier said Friday.

The deal involves about 420,000 U.S. Cellular customers in Chicago, St. Louis and other markets. They’re being asked to switch to Sprint in the coming months, which will require them to get new phones compatible with Sprint’s network.

Sprint’s announcement said it is offering discounts and incentives so customers will be able to get “a similar or better” phone — including its Sprint, Virgin, Boost and payLo brands — “for little or no cost.”

U.S. Cellular customers won’t face an early termination fee for switching to a new carrier, Sprint said. They also can continue using their current phones on Chicago-based U.S. Cellular’s network during the transition.

The deal originally covered 585,000 U.S. Cellular customers, though some already have switched to other carriers.

Sprint also is gaining wireless spectrum in the deal. Spectrum is the licensed airwaves that carry the signals used by mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets.

The added spectrum will improve Sprint’s service in the areas it covers, which includes Chicago, South Bend, Ind., Champaign, Ill., and St. Louis.