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Verizon prowling for LTE roaming partners, to deploy 200 LTE small cells in 2013

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BARCELONA, Spain--Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) is at the Mobile World Congress trade show here looking for global LTE roaming partners. In addition, the company is fine-tuning its LTE network and has plans to deploy 200 LTE small cells this year, along with 5,000 LTE cell sites in its AWS spectrum this year.

In an interview with FierceWireless, CTO Nicola Palmer said the company will announce at least one international LTE roaming partner this year with more to follow. She said Verizon will implement LTE roaming in Canada and other countries. Verizon currently has 3G roaming relationships with more than 200 carriers worldwide, and Palmer said the company hopes to extend those relationships to LTE. She noted that the LTE ecosystem globally is still developing and she believes the operator is in a strong position to secure those roaming agreements.

Verizon's LTE network currently covers 273.5 million POPs in the United States Competitor AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) LTE network covers 150 million POPs and the company plans to cover 250 million POPs by year-end.

Palmer also said that the company will deploy 200 LTE small cells this year--and while many of Verizon's competitors have announced bigger small cell deployments (AT&T has said it plans to deploy 40,000 small cells by 2015), Palmer said that she is focused on the macro LTE network and will only deploy LTE small cells in areas where there are some coverage gaps. "Yes, we see a place for small cells," she said, adding that she will only deploy small cells if they are more economical than deploying a macrocell.

Palmer also said the company is also planning to deploy 5,000 LTE cell sites in its AWS spectrum. The company has indicated it plans to use the AWS spectrum to augment its existing LTE network, which runs on its 700 MHz spectrum.  

Verizon added to its existing AWS spectrum holdings with the purchase last year of $3.9 billion worth of AWS spectrum licenses from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cox Communications.

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Editor's Note: This article was updated to reflect that Verizon's current LTE coverage is 273.5M POPs.