Pioneer Cellular today became the first Verizon Wireless LTE in Rural America program partner to launch 4G LTE service, which is now available in parts of six counties in central and western Oklahoma adjacent to the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. Within the next few weeks, additional areas will be rolled out.
Initially Pioneer will offer three devices for use with the network, said Pioneer Cellular CEO Richard Ruhl in an interview. These include a MiFi hot spot, a dongle for a personal computer and a fixed home router. Within 30 days, Pioneer hopes to offer mobile handsets for use with the service.
Pioneer and other Verizon LTE in Rural America (LRA) partners are leasing spectrum from Verizon in the same frequency band as Verizon’s own LTE service. Nevertheless Ruhl does not expect to have Verizon’s full line of LTE devices any time soon.
“The generic on the phone is different,” said Ruhl, in reference to the software used on the LTE devices. Verizon’s own software supports Verizon-exclusive capabilities. LRA partners will be required to negotiate with device vendors to obtain devices that use a stripped-down version of Verizon’s software, Ruhl said.
And although the special antenna that Verizon developed to support better signal reception for its HomeFusion fixed LTE service in rural areas would seem like a perfect product for companies like Pioneer, LRA partners won’t be getting that device right away either. Ruhl is hopeful that it will be available eventually however.
Pioneer plans to market the LTE service under its own name. Pricing will be comparable to what Tier 1 carriers offer and will be based on several different service tiers, Ruhl said. The company also is considering bundling the offering with multi-play services from the landline side of its business.
Pioneer was one of the first rural carriers to join the Verizon Wireless LTE in Rural America program back in December 2010. Pioneer began testing its LTE network about a year later and said at that time that it expected to launch service this spring.
The carrier will continue with its LTE network construction over the next 10 months. When completed, the network will cover more than 260,000 people in 21 counties across nearly 17,000 miles of central, western and southern Oklahoma.
Ruhl said at least one other Verizon rural partner is expected to launch service soon. Verizon has identified 17 partners including Appalachian Wireless, Chariton Valley, Custer Telephone, Carolina West Wireless, S and R Communications, Cellcom, Cross Wireless, Strata Networks, Thumb Cellular, Bluegrass Cellular, Convergence Technologies, Chat Mobility, Northwest Missouri Cellular, Matanuska Telephone, and Nemont. The program now covers 2.7 million POPs across 14 states.