The U.S. wireless scene is beginning to look a little like the duopoly that existed back in the early 1990s when the U.S. just had two operators in every market. In 2008 we saw Verizon Wireless snap up Alltel for $28.1 billion bringing its total subscriber base to more than 83 million. Likewise, AT&T's proposed purchase Centennial Communications will tip its subscriber base to more than 75 million.
The gap between the Tier 1 and the Tier 2/Tier 3 carriers is growing wider. Currently there are only seven networks with fewer than 7 million subscribers in the U.S. and if AT&T's planned purchase of Centennial is approved, that number will drop to six.
This disheartening trend means that Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers will continue to have difficulty securing state-of-the-art handsets for their customers (at least not until long after those devices have made their way into the hands of Tier 1 operator customers).
For vendors the shrinking base of Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers means fewer customers to buy their equipment. Obviously if you're a vendor with a Tier 1 customer base, this isn't a problem. But for smaller vendors, the Tier 3 carriers often offered them a chance to get a foothold in the market.