Is C Spire's LTE buildout dead in the water?

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Regional wireless carrier C Spire Wireless' plans to launch an LTE network at the end of 2011 appear to have been derailed. When questioned on the status of its LTE buildout by FierceWireless, company spokesman Dave Miller said only: "We did not launch 4G LTE at the end of 2011. We have no further comment beyond that."

C Spire, formerly known as Cellular South, announced in November 2010 that it would launch an LTE network on its 700 MHz spectrum in the fourth quarter of 2011. At the time, C Spire said Samsung would provide LTE network infrastructure as well as two LTE smartphones that would work in LTE band class 12. C Spire, which is a privately held company with a CDMA network, did not disclose the value of the contract with Samsung. Samsung is one of MetroPCS' (NASDAQ:PCS) LTE vendors and provided MetroPCS' first LTE phone, the Craft. (Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) is the other LTE infrastructure provider for MetroPCS.)

C Spire operates a network that covers Mississippi and parts of Tennessee, Alabama and Florida, and as of October it counted around 875,000 subscribers.

C Spire's CEO, Hu Meena, offered a veiled hint in October that the carrier's LTE buildout might not be progressing as previously expected. When questioned on the topic by FierceWireless, he said "Unfortunately I can't talk about that at all. What I can say is that we absolutely know that getting LTE into the market as soon as possible, and in as robust a fashion as possible, is absolutely critical to not only C Spire Wireless but to any carrier. And we're working diligently toward that, but I'm not able to talk about any dates."

It's unclear what happened to C Spire's LTE plans. The 700 MHz spectrum that the carrier had planned to use sits in the band class 12 range, which C Spire has argued is difficult to build out since Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) are using different blocks for their own LTE builds, and thus C Spire must obtain different and potentially more expensive equipment. (Verizon is mainly using band class 13 for its LTE build, and AT&T is mainly using band class 17). C Spire, along with other band class 12 spectrum owners, is petitioning the FCC to require handset and network providers to build equipment that would support all of the various LTE band classes.

Another factor that could be affecting C Spire's LTE plans is the carrier's surprise agreement with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to sell the iPhone. C Spire announced in October that it would join AT&T, Verizon and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) in selling the iPhone in the United States. Such a contract could have cost C Spire dearly; Sprint has committed to paying Apple $15.5 billion over four years for the iPhone.

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