Two rural wireless operators participating in Verizon Wireless’s LTE in Rural America (LRA) program have now launched service, with Wisconsin-based Cellcom adding its name to the list.
Cellcom’s announcement was actually issued on April 30, the same day as a similar announcement from Oklahoma-based Pioneer Cellular, which claimed to be the first LRA partner to announce an LTE service launch. Apparently Cellcom’s announcement came out later in the day.
In an interview with Telecompetitor, Verizon Wireless Executive Director of Strategic Alliances Philip Junker said he believes Pioneer and Cellcom are the first companies to have active LTE roaming agreements in the U.S. Several carriers have launched LTE service and the FCC has mandated data roaming, but some of the larger carriers, including Verizon, have protested or challenged that mandate.
For now, Cellcom, like Pioneer, is focused on fixed implementations of LTE. Initially the only LTE device that works with Cellcom’s new network is a MiFi hot spot. Pioneer’s device portfolio is only a bit bigger, including a fixed home router and a dongle for a personal computer as well as a MiFi hot spot. Both companies said they hope to add additional LTE devices in coming months.
It’s up to LRA participants to negotiate their own deals with device manufacturers, Junker said. But he added that Verizon has created a special device certification program for LRA partners with the goal of obtaining speedy device approval.
According to a Verizon Wireless blog post, 17 rural carriers are now participating in LTE in Rural America. Combined, the leases associated with those carriers cover more than 2.7 million people in 14 states, Verizon said.
When Verizon Wireless established the LRA program, an important stipulation was that the program would only address areas where Verizon did not have its own 3G network. Junker declined to reveal what percentage of that territory the 17 LRA participants will be able to address. But he did note that some territories are still open and that Verizon continues to have discussions with potential program participants.
“We would expect to sign up additional carriers,” he said.
Verizon works with LRA participants to pick launch dates and works with them to meet those timeframes, said Junker. The current schedule calls for six additional carriers to launch their LTE networks later in 2012, followed by at least nine additional launches in 2013.