Pioneer Cellular, the first carrier to agree to participate in Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) rural LTE initiative, said it successfully conducted end-to-end LTE tests using Verizon's 700 MHz spectrum. The tests clear the way for Pioneer to launch LTE service in the spring, the companies said.
The tests lay the foundation for a commercial launch in central and western Oklahoma. Pioneer announced its participation in the Verizon program, formally known as the LTE in Rural America program, a year ago, and during the past year the carrier has constructed cell towers, laid fiber optic cable and installed network hardware and software. Pioneer said it is now testing its new network and trial devices for speed, reliability and ease of use.
Under Verizon's rural LTE program, participating carriers lease Verizon's upper C Block 700 MHz spectrum and build and run their own networks; customers will be able to roam onto Verizon's network and vice versa. Verizon now counts 13 operators involved in the program, and said combined they cover a total of 2.6 million POPs across 85,000 square miles in 10 states. Philip Junker, executive director of strategic alliances at Verizon, said during the LTE North America conference in November that Verizon is taking a hands-off approach as to how its rural partners operate their networks. For instance, Verizon's rural partners will be able to set their own pricing plans. Moreover, these operators are free to make their own negotiations with vendors on device pricing.
A Verizon spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on when other operators in the program might conduct similar tests or launch commercial service.
Verizon's program has continued to unfold despite the FCC voting in April to adopt data roaming rules that require mobile broadband providers to provide data roaming on "commercially reasonable" terms and conditions. Verizon has filed a lawsuit against the rules.
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