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Nokia Siemens touts LTE win at U.S. Cellular

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Nokia Siemens Networks was a provider of radio access network (RAN) and mobile management entity (MME) equipment in 11 markets for U.S. Cellular's (NYSE:USM) second wave of LTE launches, which occurred in late 2012.

NSN is also providing evolved packet core (EPC) and home subscriber services for U.S. Cellular's LTE network, which is based on the 3GPP Release 9 standard. Installation of NSN's LTE core was included in nine separate markets. Further, the vendor is supplying network implementation services as well as hardware and software services.

U.S. Cellular and its spectrum bidding partner King Street Wireless initiated their first wave of LTE market launches during March 2012 using 700 MHz Lower A Block spectrum but have been reticent about identifying their network infrastructure suppliers.

Their March rollout of LTE included cities in Iowa, Maine, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. RAN equipment for those initial markets was supplied by NSN's rival Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), Ric Herald, head of NSN's sub-region customer business teams in North America, told FierceBroadbandWireless.

NSN's RAN equipment was subsequently installed in select cities in Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia, with the last of the markets being outfitted in late October 2012.

On Nov. 5 U.S. Cellular announced the rollout of LTE in more than 30 markets. A U.S. Cellular spokesman declined to name the RAN providers for that launch or confirm whether that launch included the 11 NSN RAN markets.

U.S. Cellular's older 2G and 3G networks were supplied primarily by Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ: ALU) and Ericsson, Herald said. Nokia (NYSE:NOK), prior to the formation of Nokia Siemens, also at one time supplied U.S. Cellular with GSM infrastructure, which is still being used in a particular market, he noted.

The U.S. Cellular LTE deal is notable for NSN, given that it was not a major vendor for the operator previously. Further, the contract helps validate NSN's laser focus on being a provider of mobile broadband equipment and related services primarily in North America, Japan and South Korea.

The pact with U.S. Cellular was the culmination of a three- or four-year sales process, Herald said. "We spent a lot of time working with senior management and convincing them. It's no secret that a year ago everyone was asking if we were going to survive. And we've demonstrated to the market that we're going to survive with what we've done," he said.

U.S. Cellular's full-year 2012 LTE coverage target was 15.4 million POPs. Its LTE network currently covers 58 percent of its customer base and will reach 87 percent by year's end.

"Nokia Siemens Networks launched 11 of our markets to help us meet this aggressive timeline and completed the deployment of the core network elements ahead of schedule," said Michael Irizarry, U.S. Cellular's CTO.

NSN claims to have 77 commercial references in place worldwide for the delivery of LTE and 206 W-CDMA radio customers, which the company said gives it more 3G and LTE contracts than any other network vendor.

In May T-Mobile USA named NSN and Ericsson as primary infrastructure vendors for its forthcoming LTE network. However, NSN is still smarting from missing out on LTE RAN contracts with AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), both of which selected Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent as their primary LTE vendors. NSN is supplying IMS for Verizon's LTE network, however.

U.S. Cellular's partner King Street Wireless holds 700 MHz wireless spectrum in 27 states. Both companies are members of the Interoperability Alliance, which is pushing the FCC to mandate LTE interoperability in the Lower 700 MHz band.

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