SouthernLinc strikes deal to add nationwide GSM/UMTS to iDEN service

Regional carrier SouthernLinc struck an agreement with MVNE Prepaid Wireless Wholesale to add nationwide GSM and UMTS service to its iDEN network footprint, though it is unclear exactly which GSM network SouthernLinc will use for the effort.

SouthernLinc said the deal will allow it to provide its customers with iDEN push-to-talk service as well as high-speed data on GSM and UMTS networks. The announcement comes as Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) continues its shutdown of its iDEN network, an effort that is slated to be completed by the end the end of June.

In December, SouthernLinc said it would continue to invest in its iDEN network despite Sprint's decision to turn off its iDEN network. At the time, SouthernLinc CEO Don Horsley promised the carrier would launch a "solution" that would allow it to continue offering nationwide service--the carrier's new agreement with Prepaid Wireless Wholesale appears to be that solution.

In conjunction with the new offering, SouthernLinc said it expects to introduce a new dual-SIM smartphone from Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Motorola Mobility and a "suite of high-speed nationwide services in late spring 2013."

SouthernLinc spokeswoman Lynda Swaney told FierceWireless that "under the terms of our agreement we cannot disclose the network the service will use." AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile are the only national U.S. GSM carriers.

SouthernLinc is the only other wireless carrier in the United States that operates an iDEN network (besides Sprint), although there are millions of iDEN subscribers in markets across the globe. In the United States, SouthernLinc maintains 850 towers in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi, and counts around 150,000 subscribers.

Swaney said the carrier's GSM/UMTS service will be bundled with the carrier's traditional regional iDEN services and that pricing is not yet available. She also declined to comment specifically on what kind of "high-speed nationwide services" SouthernLinc will offer, but said they will "will provide the unique combination of the best in class iDEN PTT, the reliability of the SouthernLinc Wireless network, and nationwide high-speed data, voice and messaging services."

Sprint is working to move its remaining iDEN subscribers onto its CDMA network. To smooth that transition, Sprint has launched a PTT offering from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) dubbed CDMA Direct Connect. Sprint was able to recapture 51 percent of leaving Nextel postpaid subscribers to its Sprint platform, down from 59 percent in the third quarter; Sprint has also said that this recapture rate will decrease as the shutdown nears.

Meanwhile, AT&T has taken aim squarely at Sprint's remaining iDEN subscribers (just 2.08 million at the end of the fourth quarter) by launching its Enhanced Push-to-Talk offering as well as new smartphones for the service.

For more:
- see this release

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