Sprint rural LTE initiatives are making significant progress. The company said last Friday that it has added 15 rural and regional LTE roaming partners, bringing its total to 27. In the same announcement, NetAmerica CEO Roger Hutton revealed that his company has signed preliminary agreements with “approximately 20 carriers” interested in participating in a program aimed at bringing Sprint-compatible LTE networks to rural areas.
The roaming agreements were the result of a deal Sprint struck earlier this year with the Competitive Carriers Association to give CCA members the ability to roam on the Sprint network and to purchase some of the same equipment used on Sprint’s network, or “ecosystem,” for use on their own networks.
The LTE network construction program, known as the Small Market Alliance for Rural Transformation (SMART) was created at the same time as the CCA deal. The SMART program gives rural network operators the ability to lease spectrum from Sprint to build out their own networks using the same type of equipment used in Sprint’s own network. Additionally customers of Sprint and the rural carriers gain the ability to use one another’s networks without incurring roaming charges.
Working on the SMART program with Sprint is NetAmerica, a company that already was working with rural network operators to build LTE networks. NetAmerica’s business is to help rural carriers with LTE build-outs and to help the carriers work together to offer a consistent service offering throughout their serving areas.
“SMART has been aggressively embraced by rural carriers looking to build networks, expand their reach and deliver on the promise of 4G LTE mobile broadband,” said Hutton in today’s announcement. “Since announcing the initiative we have signed preliminary agreements with approximately 20 carriers interested in building out over 300,000 square miles of network.” Hutton added that NetAmerica has been in discussions with “dozens of other carriers in multiple states to match their specific business expansion goals to the SMART program.”
The Device Hub
Also in today’s announcement, Sprint provided information about a CCA Device Hub and a CCA Roaming Hub that will be created to support the company’s rural strategy.
The CCA Device Hub targets rural carriers that purchase equipment from the Sprint ecosystem through the CCA’s agreement with Sprint. Beginning in 2015, the CCA Device Hub will give those carriers the ability to “provision, manage and brand devices independently” using the Device Hub.
Some rural operators do not have LTE networks in any of the same spectrum bands that Sprint uses, explained Andy Dries, manager of business development for Sprint, in an interview. To enable customers of those networks to roam onto Sprint’s network and vice -versa, Sprint is working with manufacturers to develop handsets that work in spectrum bands commonly held by rural operators as well as bands where Sprint has spectrum.
Beginning in 2015, Sprint and the rural carriers will begin offering those devices, which will give the rural carriers’ customers the ability to roam onto Sprint networks and vice versa. The CCA Device Hub will have an interface into Sprint’s provisioning system that will enable the rural operators to provision devices purchased through Sprint’s ecosystem program, explained Dries.
Rural network operators that have deployed LTE in the same bands that Sprint uses will be able to offer roaming onto Sprint’s networks sooner than those waiting for the new devices, Dries said.
Sprint said Brightstar Corp. will be the exclusive distributor for device access and distribution.
LTE Roaming Hub
Sprint is also collaborating with the CCA on the Roaming Hub, which will serve as a “clearinghouse” for participants to complete “simple, commercially-sustainable and individually-negotiated reciprocal roaming agreements” with other participants.
Dries confirmed that the Roaming Hub will be based on a hub that the CCA already was working on with Transaction Network Services announced about a year and a half ago.
Today’s announcement from Sprint comes just one day after rural wireless carrier nTelos announced it had selected Alcatel-Lucent to provide equipment for an expansion of the nTelos LTE network in West Virginia and western Virginia that will use Sprint spectrum in three different frequency bands.
A complete list of Sprint’s 15 new rural carrier roaming partners can be found in today’s announcement.