Originally created 04/28/00

Powertel Inc. sales soar in first quarter



Powertel Inc., a West Point, Ga.-based wireless company that analysts say may be ripe for a merger with VoiceStream Wireless Corp., reported "exceptional" first-quarter results, company president and chief executive officer Allen E. Smith said on a conference call Thursday.

Powertel ended the first quarter on March 31 with about 656,000 total personal communications customers. About 110,000 of them signed up in the first three months of the year.

Powertel serves 34 cities, including Augusta, Atlanta, Athens, Columbus, Macon and Savannah.

Sales and revenues also increased. Sales shot up to $100.1 million in the first quarter from $62 million in the same quarter in 1999. Revenues went up to $93.1 million from $53.9 million, also compared to the first quarter in 1999.

The company also touted its pre-pay service plan, which allows customers to pay for air time before they use it and accounts for much of the customer growth, and its plans to offer more access to digital information through the wireless connection.

The independent company -- with one of the largest contiguous PCS networks in the South -- is a candidate to be acquired, two Raymond James analysts said.

"I think it does make sense," Art Poole said.

He added that a VoiceStream acquisition could come sometime this year.

His colleague Richard Prentiss concurred.

Powertel spokesman Kevin Inda said the company does not comment on any merger speculation. VoiceStream did not immediately return a phone call Thursday.

VoiceStream offers PCS services in several markets in the southwest and west, including Austin, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Des Moines, Phoenix, Seattle and Denver. It had more than 676,000 customers as of the third quarter of last year.

VoiceStream acquired two wireless companies -- Omnipoint and Aerial Communications -- in separate deals last year for a total of about $8 million. The company could use Powertel's management experience and coverage area to fill gaps, the analysts said.

A merged company also would be in a better position to compete with AT&T Wireless, which this week held its initial public offering; Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Bell Atlantic, GTE and Vodafone AirTouch; and BellSouth and SBC, which are merging their wireless operations.

Reach Frank Witsil at 823-3352.

Company profile

Powertel Inc.

Headquarters: West Point, Ga.

CEO: Allen Smith

Annual Sales: $283.4 million

52 week high/low: $105/$20.25

Thursday's close: $63.50, up 25 cents

VoiceStream Wireless Corp.

Headquarters: Bellevue, Wash.

CEO: John Stanton

Annual Sales: $475.5 million

52 week high/low: $159.38/$16.38

Thursday's close: $87.56, up $4.56