Bluegrass Cellular launches service through Verizon's rural LTE program

Rural carrier Bluegrass Cellular launched the first phase of its LTE deployment through Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) LTE in Rural America program, becoming the third operator to do so.

The Kentucky-based carrier said the cities of Bowling Green, Elizabethtown, Glasgow, Radcliff and Bardstown will be among its first wave of LTE markets. Bluegrass President Ron Smith said in a statement that the initial launch covers a population area of over 348,000 people in the company's largest markets and includes the I-65 corridor, providing continuous LTE coverage between Louisville and Nashville. Bluegrass said it will continue to expand LTE to additional areas in 2013.

Bluegrass in November 2010 joined Verizon's rural LTE program and has spent the past few years preparing for the launch. Verizon announced its rural LTE initiative in June 2010. Under the program, Verizon shares access to its 700 MHz Upper C Block spectrum with rural operators, which use their tower and backhaul assets to build an LTE network and market the LTE service under their own brands. Users can roam across the various networks. Earlier this spring Oklahoma-based Pioneer Cellular and Wisconsin-based Cellcom became the first two carriers to launch commercial service under the program.

In an interview with FierceWireless in September, Verizon's Philip Junker said the carrier expects a total of six of its rural LTE program partners to offer commercial service by the end of the year. "We have many carriers in the pipeline," said Junker, Verizon's executive director of strategic alliances and the head of the program. "We expect to sign more carriers up."

The operators in the program include: Bluegrass Cellular; Cross Telephone; Pioneer Cellular; Cellcom; Thumb Cellular; Strata Networks; S and R Communications; Carolina West; Custer Telephone Cooperative; Convergence Technologies; Chariton Valley Communication Corporation; Appalachian Wireless; Northwest Missouri Cellular; Chat Mobility; Matanuska Telephone Association; Sagebrush Cellular; and Copper Valley Telecom.

Two of the carriers in the program--Cellcom and Appalachian Wireless--launched Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) LTE-capable iPhone 5 Sept. 28. Bluegrass launched the gadget Friday.

For more:
- see this release

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