Ericsson, NetAmerica aim to create economies of scale for rural LTE networks

ORLANDO, Fla.-Ericsson and NetAmerica created a partnership today that is designed to create economies of scale for certain frequencies of the 700 MHz and AWS bands in rural markets.

NetAmerica has teamed with independent spectrum license holders that agree to build out their regions as part of a consortium. The deal with Ericsson calls for the world's largest vendor to offer LTE radio functionality, evolved packet core, IP multimedia subsystem and a family of LTE-centric home and small business gateways.

The move comes as smaller operators lobby the FCC to require the device and equipment makers incorporate all flavors of 700 MHz LTE. A number of smaller operators acquired 700 MHz spectrum licenses in the Lower A, B and C Blocks, which lie in band class 12. Smaller operators argue that AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) are using their size and weight to encourage network equipment makers to build equipment that only supports the 700 MHz band classes that they own.

While the move will help with economies of scale, it still doesn't solve the data roaming issue. The FCC is supposed to vote on in April whether to make data roaming a requirement like it does in the voice market. The FCC's decision may take on a new meaning given the fact that AT&T has proposed to buy T-Mobile USA for $39 billion to create the country's largest mobile operator.

In the opening keynote of the CTIA Wireless 2011 trade show, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that the data roaming proposal, which the commission will vote on at its next meeting April 7, simply made sense as an outgrowth of voice roaming rules.

"Voice roaming has promoted competition and has been an important spur to the dramatic uptake in mobile devices and investment in mobile networks," Genachowski said. "Consumers everywhere want the ability to roam anywhere, and they want it for all of their basic mobile services, whether it's a voice call, an online check of out-of-town scores, or access to web job postings or health information. Many mobile providers need roaming arrangements to be competitive." 

He said that the FCC is still debating the details of a data-roaming framework, but also said "the core proposition is beyond dispute: healthy competition produces greater innovation and investment, lower prices, and better service."

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T have strongly petitioned against the automatic data roaming proposal since it was floated last year.

In related news, Ericsson announced a technology deal with United Utilities to install a long-haul microwave network in Alaska. Ericsson calls the deal its largest long-haul microwave contract for the vendor in North America. It will cover 65 communities in southwest Alaska. 

The project, called the TERRA-Southwest project, is a jointly funded network with $44 million coming from the USDA Rural Utilities Service and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and $44 million in loans.

For more:
- see this release

Related articles:
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FCC to vote on data roaming, cell phone boosters at April meeting
FCC report: New wireless spectrum may be worth $120B
Data roaming battle heats up ahead of FCC's April meeting
FCC considers cell booster ban
Smaller operators call on FCC to act on data roaming mandate
T-Mobile, AT&T deadlock on 3G data roaming deal

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