Dish, nTelos aim to launch fixed TD-LTE network in July, later than expected

Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) and Sprint (NYSE: S) wholesale partner nTelos Wireless are close to launching a trial network for fixed wireless TD-LTE service. The companies hope to add commercial users to the network in July, later than they initially expected when the plans for the trials were first unveiled last fall.

nTelos CEO James Hyde discussed the trial during the company's first-quarter earnings conference call on May 7. He noted that after the 1900 MHz PCS H Block auction concluded in late February, nTelos "re-engaged" with Dish to complete preparations for the second phase of their fixed mobile broadband market trials.

"Our core network elements are substantially complete, and we're pushing the back-office setup work," he said. "Based on refined network design models, we expect that the trial network will cover nearly 500,000 POPs, and we should begin adding friendly users next month and customers to the network in earnest starting in July." The companies had initially hoped to deploy commercial service sometime in early 2014.

When talking about the trial on the company's fourth-quarter earnings call in late February, Hyde had said the trial network would be rolled out across four nTelos markets covering nearly 600,000 local residents. He had said the "build plan is on schedule and we intend to have a network completed and tested" late in the first quarter. It appears the network testing and completion has been delayed by several weeks.

Dish and nTelos have said they will initially launch the service in markets where they have a high concentration of customers: Roanoke, Staunton, Waynesboro and Charlottesville, Va. The service uses nTelos' 2.5 GHz spectrum, and Hyde has said the service might be sold as a standalone service or bundled with nTelos' wireless service or Dish's satellite TV service. nTelos has a total wireless footprint covering 6 million POPs.

Hyde said in February that the companies would be "experimenting with various price points and bundled plans in order to learn all we can about customer adoption rates, usage and expectations along with network performance and costs."

Dish is also working with Sprint on a similar trial in Corpus, Christi, Texas. The companies have said that service will be available in the middle of 2014, but have not provided a more specific timeline than that. Sprint and Dish have also said the service will initially be available in limited areas of Corpus Christi, but that they plan to expand into additional markets in the future. A Sprint spokeswoman said the carrier did not have an update on its plans.

In other nTelos news, the company will expand its LTE network, which it first launched in the fourth quarter of 2013. Hyde said that the company is using Ethernet backhaul and that it has firm commitments in place already to bring the backhaul to 75 percent of the company's LTE sites.

"Therefore, we plan to launch LTE services in more markets during May and June, and by the end of June, we expect to cover approximately 2.5 million POPs with LTE, which is nearly 60 percent to our year-end goal of 4.2 million POPs and we are on track to achieve that objective by the end of 2014," he said.

nTelos ended the first quarter with 468,000 total wireless subscribers, having added 3,400 net new customers during the period. The company said operating revenues increased 2 percent to $122.1 million during the quarter.

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