Two regional mobile operators participating in Verizon Wireless’ ‘Long Term Evolution (LTE) in Rural America’ programme are reportedly close to launching commercial services, as the initiative continues to expand its reach with the addition of new participants. Fierce Broadband Wireless reports that both Pioneer Cellular and Cellcom are tentatively planning LTE launches this spring; Oklahoma-based Pioneer Cellular successfully conducted end-to-end tests of the technology platform in December 2011 using Verizon’s 700MHz spectrum, in preparation for a spring launch. Meanwhile, Wisconsin-based Cellcom last month confirmed positive results from the testing of trial devices at three sites in Sturgeon Bay, paving the way for a 2Q12 LTE launch in Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, Wausau and parts of Oconto and Marinette counties. Further, the online journal reports that Verizon’s LTE initiative recently gained two new participants in the form of Alaska’s Matanuska Telephone Association (MTA) and Montana-based Sagebrush Cellular, which trades under the ‘Nemont’ banner. Verizon has confirmed that the 700MHz upper C-Block spectrum leased to Matanuska covers approximately 34,000 square miles, by far the largest upper 700MHz spectrum leased to date (see below).
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, prior to its commercial LTE launch, in May 2010 Verizon CTO Tony Melone revealed that the company was looking to partner with an unspecified number of rural operators in an effort to speed up its LTE deployments. The cellco planned to lease pockets of its 700MHz spectrum to rural carriers so that they can roll out LTE networks of their own, over which Verizon will have roaming rights. Verizon said that it would not insist that the rural carriers used Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson as their LTE infrastructure vendors as Verizon has done, but noted that there may be some benefits from economies of scale through sharing vendors.
US website Telecompetitor reports the number of rural participants is now up to 17, and says that alongside Cellcom, Sagebrush/Nemont, Pioneer and Matanuska, Verizon has also signed deals with Appalachian Wireless, Bluegrass Cellular, Carolina West Wireless, Chariton Valley, Chat Mobility (counted by Verizon as two participants made up of RSA-1 and RSA-2 partners), Convergence Technologies, Custer Telephone, Cross Wireless, Northwest Missouri Cellular, S and R Communications, Strata Networks and Thumb Cellular.