Pioneer Cellular launches LTE under Verizon rural partner program

Oklahoma-based Pioneer Cellular is the first Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) LTE in Rural America participant to light up a commercial LTE network on Verizon's 700 MHz spectrum.

Pioneer's LTE service initially covers parts of six counties in central and western Oklahoma near Oklahoma City and will be rolled out to additional areas in coming weeks, according to a Telecompetitor article.

Telecompetitor said Pioneer is offering three LTE devices--a Novatel MiFi hotspot, dongle and fixed home router--and intends to add smartphones to the mix within 30 days. Despite its partnership with Verizon, Pioneer and other Verizon LRA partners will be restricted to getting phones with a limited version of Verizon's handset software rather than the full software that supports Verizon-exclusive capabilities, Pioneer Cellular CEO Richard Ruhl told Telecompetitor.

Another Verizon LTE in Rural America (LRA) partner, Wisconsin-based Cellcom, is also expected to launch LTE service soon. That operator said in February that it had successfully tested radios and trial devices at three sites in Sturgeon Bay, laying the foundation for a second-quarter rollout of LTE in Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, Wausau and parts of Oconto and Marinette counties.

Verizon announced its LRA initiative in June 2010. Under the program, Verizon shares access to its 700 MHz spectrum with rural operators who use their tower and backhaul assets to build a LTE network and market the LTE service under their own brands.

In December 2010, Pioneer became the second carrier sign onto Verizon's rural LTE initiative, following Bluegrass Cellular. In December 2011, Verizon announced that Pioneer had successfully completed end-to-end data testing over its LTE network in preparation for commercial launch. Verizon said Pioneer had "constructed cell towers, laid fiber-optic cable, and installed network hardware and software, working closely with Verizon Wireless engineers."

Verizon said at the time that Pioneer's LTE network will cover more than 260,000 people in 21 counties across nearly 17,000 miles of central and western Oklahoma.

Verizon's LRA program has signed up a total of 17 rural mobile operators.

For more:
- see this Telecompetitor article

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