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October 12, 2007 at 10:10 AM

Wireless executives do the roshambo

Not sure what was in the water this week, but there were a couple of high-level executive changes at two big wireless carriers.

Needless to say, at least one of them picked paper and the other scissors.

On Monday, Sprint Nextel announced CEO Gary Forsee stepped down as investors questioned the company’s performance.

Sprint has struggled to keep customers happy, and has had a hard time defining a niche for itself as the third largest U.S. carrier. The company is still working on integrating the Nextel network into its Sprint customer base, while at the same time taking a huge bet by launching a new network based on the unproven WiMax technology.

With a market cap of about $51 billion, you wonder why they aren’t a buy-out candidate? I mean, Google’s thinking about paying $4.6 billion for spectrum in an upcoming auction — and that’s for much less spectrum than what Sprint currently owns and before the cost of building out the actual network.

That leads us to AT&T… well, not really, but hear me out.

Yesterday, AT&T, the largest wireless carrier, said that the head of its wireless unit — Stan Sigman — was retiring, and it appointed Ralph de la Vega as his successor.

Both men were legacy Cingular Wireless employees. Sigman was the CEO, and

De la Vega was COO. De la Vega was also previously group president of regional telecom and entertainment.

He will now be CEO of AT&T Mobility, effective immediately. Sigman will assist with the transition through the end of the year, the company said.

De la Vega has been around since Cingular bought AT&T Wireless, and was one of the top spokesmen for all of the company’s announcements.

In fact, it was De la Vega I was talking to at about 8 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2004. I was on my way to CTIA, sitting on the plane before take-off, quickly getting the skinny. Three hours earlier, the FCC had approved the merger of the two companies, giving the final go ahead for Cingular to hand over $41 billion in cash to purchase AT&T Wireless.

During those crazy moments during boarding, De la Vega was passed a note during the interview, letting him know the merger was completed. “The deal is done,” he said. “We feel good. We aim to execute just as quickly.”

Quick is an understatement. Almost exactly three years later, the company comprises Cingular, AT&T, BellSouth and SBC Communications, and he’s the CEO in charge of the company’s wireless division. It is the largest U.S. carrier, and has a market cap of $256 billion (not shabby, compared to Sprint’s $51 billion).

Imagine where these two companies will be in another three years? Both of the plots will be worth following.

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