Dish, nTelos to launch commercial fixed LTE service in early 2014

Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) and Sprint (NYSE:S) wholesale partner nTelos Wireless will commercially deploy a fixed TD-LTE broadband service in four markets in Virginia in early 2014. The companies could expand their partnership beyond that, depending on how the trial goes, according to nTelos CEO James Hyde.

Dish and nTelos are launching the service in markets where they have a high concentration of customers: Roanoke, Staunton, Waynesboro and Charlottesville, Va. The footprint could potentially cover up to 500,000 POPs. nTelos has a total wireless footprint covering 6 million POPs.

In June, Dish first revealed it was working on the service and said that its technicians would install BandRich ruggedized outdoor routers with built-in high-gain antennas to receive the LTE signal. The service uses nTelos' 2.5 GHz BRS spectrum, at 2496 - 2690 MHz, which is exactly the same spectrum that Sprint now owns via its acquisition of Clearwire. Dish said it partnered with Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) to activate two wireless tower test sites during phase I of the service, but Hyde said nTelos has not publicly disclosed which vendors will support phase II, and said there are "other vendor partners that we may work with."

In an interview with FierceWireless, Hyde said that although tests produced speeds of 20-50 Mbps and sometimes higher, average real-world speeds on a fully loaded network will be around 5 Mbps. However, he said that network speed is similar to what customers in the trial markets can receive from competing broadband providers. "We also think that will be very competitive in terms of what the alternative broadband speeds and solutions for these customers and these market are today," he said.

"The Dish partnership is just the type of thing that we, as a regional wireless carrier, think allows us to continue to grow our business and remain competitive," Hyde said. He said that nTelos is "delighted with where we are right now in terms of our relationship with Dish" and that the companies will bring a "disruptive service" to the market. The companies first announced the partnership in May.

Both Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) have experimented in the past with fixed-wireless broadband products using external home antennas.

A Dish spokesman declined to comment beyond the statement the company released on the partnership. "With nearly a fifth of U.S. households underserved by broadband, a fixed wireless solution could deliver an additional broadband option to millions of consumers," Tom Cullen, Dish's executive vice president of corporate development (and the executive overseeing the company's wireless efforts), said in the statement.

Hyde said that nTelos and Dish are not yet ready to reveal the pricing for their service. "We will target a couple of different price points and a couple of different pricing structures," he said. Hyde said the service might be sold as a standalone service or bundled with nTelos' wireless service or Dish's satellite TV service.

The service could be expanded beyond the initial markets, but Hyde said it's too soon to say when. "Certainly, the business case that we've built up on paper makes sense for deployment across the whole of our footprint," he said. "But we've got a little more work to do between now and then in phase II."

He also said "if the business case proves out it would make good sense for us expanding our partnership" with Dish.

Separately, Hyde said nTelos remains "on track" to deploy its own LTE service in a limited number of markets by year-end, and that the carrier will provide more details on that effort in the next few weeks. He declined to say which markets would get LTE service but he said "don't be surprised if there is some level of overlap" between the company's first LTE markets and its trial markets with Dish.

NTelos has a wholesale deal to offer Sprint service in West Virginia and western Virginia. The carrier also offers service in portions of Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky. The company had 454,800 total subscribers at the end of the second quarter.

Dish tried and failed to gain control of Sprint and Clearwire this spring, but an entity controlled by Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) Chairman Charlie Ergen was selected as the lead bidder in an auction for LightSquared's spectrum assets with a $2.2 billion bid. 

For more:
- see this release
- see this Bloomberg article

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