SouthernLinc to continue iDEN business, plans 'solution' for nationwide coverage

Regional carrier SouthernLinc said it will continue to invest in its iDEN network despite Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) decision to turn off its iDEN network by the middle of next year. However, SouthernLinc CEO Don Horsley said the carrier does have plans for a "nationwide solution" that SouthernLinc will launch in a "very short timeframe." Horsley declined to provide further details on what kind of "solution" SouthernLinc will offer.

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. Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Motorola Mobility supplies SouthernLinc's iDEN handsets and Motorola Solutions (NYSE:MSI) provides the carrier's iDEN network infrastructure, and Horsley said both companies have committed to continue supplying SouthernLinc with iDEN kit in the future.

"We continue to invest in our network," Horsley said. SouthernLinc customers "need the most reliable push-to-talk technology that there is, and we think that's iDEN." Horsley explained that SouthernLinc is an affiliate of utilities supplier Southern Company, and provides iDEN service to Southern Company workers as well as retail customers.

SouthernLinc has offered voice roaming onto Sprint's iDEN network since 2002, and in 2011 the carrier added PTT and data roaming to that agreement. Horsley acknowledged that SouthernLinc's customers will lose that roaming capability when Sprint completes its iDEN network shutdown next year. However, he said that "we obviously do have some subscribers who roam, but it may not be as big a number as you may think." He declined to provide details.

In order to address the gap left by Sprint's iDEN network shutdown, Horsley said SouthernLinc plans to offer a "nationwide solution" in the near future. He declined to provide details. SouthernLinc could be planning to offer an MVNO service.

Sprint is shutting down its iDEN network, which runs on its 800 MHz spectrum, in order to deploy LTE network technology and CDMA 1X Advanced voice services on the spectrum. Horsley said SouthernLinc also has the ability to deploy LTE on the 800 MHz spectrum it is using for iDEN, but he declined to say whether the carrier would do so.

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. In the third quarter Sprint was able to recapture 59 percent of leaving postpaid iDEN customers and move them to its CDMA network, just below Sprint's recapture rate of 60 percent in the second quarter. As time passes though, Sprint expects that rate to decline.

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