LightSquared added another wireless carrier to its roster of wholesale LTE customers, inking a bilateral roaming agreement with rural operator Cellular South. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Under the transaction, Cellular South will get access to LightSquared's network as well as satellite coverage in rural areas, and LightSquared will expand its service to rural markets.
LightSquared has inked three major deals over the past five weeks with Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), Best Buy and Open Range Communications. LightSquared has said it is holding contract negotiations with 15 companies.
In an interview with FierceWireless, Frank Boulben, LightSquared's chief marketing officer, said the Cellular South deal is similar to the one LightSquared inked with Leap, since both carriers "obviously want to be able to offer nationwide 4G roaming to their customers at very attractive wholesale rates." However, he added that there are differences: The deal with Cellular South includes access to LightSquared's satellite coverage and is a reciprocal roaming agreement.
Boulben said LightSquared has more deals in the pipeline. "We will be announcing similar agreements very soon," he said.
For Cellular South, striking the deal seemed easy and sensible, an executive said. "LightSquared has a vision to transform roaming in the wireless industry and we think that is exactly what is needed," Eric Graham, Cellular South vice president of government relations, told FierceWireless. "Consumers rely so heavily on data--and will do so even more in the future--that it is time for nationwide providers to move beyond punitive roaming agreements and rates.
Graham said the two companies began their negotiations in the days after the FCC's data roaming order came out, which he said "just goes to show how quickly you can execute a data roaming agreement -- even at 4G -- when the parties are trying to strike a mutually-beneficial deal."
Cellular South--the largest privately held U.S. carrier--counts around 900,000 subscribers and operates mainly in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Days after the company said it would not participate in Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) rural LTE licensing program, Cellular South picked Samsung as its primary LTE infrastructure vendor and said it plans to launch an LTE network on 700 MHz spectrum in the fourth quarter of 2011. Cellular South said Samsung will provide LTE network infrastructure as well as two LTE smartphones that will work in LTE band class 12.
Grahahm said the deal does not impact Cellular South's LTE deployment plan. "We will continue to move forward with our LTE deployment, and we will use our roaming agreement with LightSquared to offer expanded coverage to Cellular South's subscribers in the same way that LightSquared's customers will be able to access our network," he said.
Boulben said LightSquared is working with Cellular South at the chipset level to ensure that there are devices that will work on both networks.
LightSquared has committed to cover 100 million POPs by the end of 2012, 145 million by the end of 2013 and 260 million by the end of 2015. The company is working with the FCC and the GPS industry to resolve GPS interference concerns and must have those issues ironed out before it launches commercial service.
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Article updated April 20 with comment from Cellular South.