Update: Pioneer CEO Richard Ruhl offers great insight into the Verizon partnership.
Pioneer Cellular, based in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, is the latest rural wireless carrier to join the Verizon LTE in Rural America partnership program. Pioneer joins Bluegrass Cellular of Kentucky who announced their participation in November 2010.
Pioneer Cellular is CDMA wireless carrier serving parts of rural Oklahoma and Kansas. Established in 1988, Pioneer Cellular is owned by a partnership of Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Inc., KanOkla Telephone Association, South Central Communications of Kansas and Hinton Cellular Company in Hinton, Oklahoma. They currently cover 345K POPs with 100% CDMA 3G coverage. They already had plans to extend their coverage to 445K POPs. Pioneer tells Telecompetitor that their 4G coverage from the Verizon partnership will reach about 265K of those 445K POPs.
“Pioneer’s strategy is to continue to enhance the quality of life of the customers we serve. Partnering with Verizon Wireless in the LTE in Rural America program will help to ensure we are able to address the future needs of our customers in the communities that have historically not been the first to benefit from technologies like 4G LTE,” said Richard Ruhl, CEO of Pioneer in a press release.
Pioneer plans to begin the process of building 4G capability shortly after the new year. “We plan to begin the initial ‘Phase 1’ construction on the 4G network overlay in 2011. We are not certain at this time when we will launch 4G service, as the engineering and planning with the Verizon Wireless engineers will start ASAP after the holidays,” Ruhl tells Telecompetitor.
Like all rural wireless carriers, Pioneer has been evaluating mobile broadband options that both provide competitive advantage, as well as keeps them current with large national providers. Ruhl tells me in an emailed response that Pioneer selected the Verizon option for several reasons:
- “One, our customers will have access to the largest 4G network in the United States, as VZ has indicated they will cover over 250 million POP’s by 2013.
- Two, the partnership allows Pioneer to launch 4G service in a large portion of our markets using 22 Mhz of Verizon’s spectrum, and at the same time, allows us to provide 4G services to the 98 million Verizon customers when they travel into our service area(s).
- Three, we have access to the same customer devices that Verizon Wireless will be offering to their customers.
- Four, the program allows Pioneer to ‘leverage’ our capital investment in not only our existing 3G network, but also the new 4G network by creating more traffic stimulation from our customers and also from the 98 million Verizon customers. As Verizon customers travel outside the 4G network, they will have access to our existing CDMA 3G network.”
The LTE in Rural America program was introduced by Verizon back in May 2010. Details of the program haven’t been revealed, but in general terms, Verizon will lease portions of their 700 MHz C-block spectrum to rural carriers for the build out of a 4G LTE network in rural areas where Verizon does not intend to offer the mobile broadband service.
Rural carriers will then be able to offer their own branded 4G LTE service and presumably allow their subscribers to roam onto Verizon’s national 4G network. Roaming terms have not been revealed.
Verizon revealed to Telecompetitor in November that they have reached agreement with five rural carriers (which now includes Pioneer and Bluegrass), suggesting three additional announcements should be coming soon.