Verizon Wireless late last week explained the initial steps of its plan to integrate operations with Alltel.

Verizon spent $5.9 billion for Alltel and took on $22.2 billion in debt. Alltel’s brand name will gradually phase out this summer, while Verizon evaluates the number of stores and employees, officials said.

The joint venture of Verizon and Vodafone expects to save $9 billion after the integration. There are more than 83.7 million total subscribers, including 2.1 million among the 105 markets in 24 states that Verizon will exit per regulatory agreements.

All but four of those markets will be former Alltel markets, along with Rural Cellular Corp.’s Unicel coverage in Minnesota and Kansas. Verizon also said it will maintain Alltel’s GSM networks.

For customers, rate plans such as the popular My Circle option will remain – at least during the transition stages this summer.  Most customers will not have to change handsets, officials said. Alltel customers will be notified of additional details by traditional mail and already have access to an online list of frequently asked questions.

More details are expected when Verizon announces its fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 27.  Separately, Verizon today announced a content partnership with CBS (story here).

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