Sprint adds 15 rural carriers to LTE roaming program

Sprint (NYSE: S) added 15 new rural wireless carrier partners to its LTE roaming program, growing the size of its LTE roaming footprint by more than 4 million POPs.

The new partners build on Sprint's announcement in June of 12 rural LTE roaming partners, which included a previously announced deal with nTelos Wireless. Those agreements covered 34 million POPs in 23 states. Including the new agreements, the program now includes 27 carriers, and extends coverage over 565,000 square miles in 27 states and a population of more than 38 million people.

Sprint is using its Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program to expand its LTE footprint, which lags those of Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ)  and AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T). Verizon says it covers 306 million POPs with LTE and AT&T just reported that its network covers 300 million POPs. Sprint's LTE footprint currently covers 254 million POPs, but because it does not have as much low-band spectrum as Verizon and AT&T its LTE network reach has been limited. All of the agreements under Sprint's program include reciprocal roaming agreements, letting Sprint customers roam onto the rural carriers' networks and vice versa.

For the smaller carriers, the program offers access to a larger LTE network footprint at a low cost, Sprint's LTE device portfolio and in some cases the ability to lease Sprint's spectrum. Sprint is also working with its rural partners to get them access to network infrastructure for the 2.5 GHz band, a key element of Sprint's tri-band LTE Spark service.

Notably, Sprint said that beginning in 2015, it will make devices more compatible with regional carriers' networks by adding support for additional spectrum bands, including the AWS and lower 700 MHz spectrum (presumably Band 12) that are used by Competitive Carriers Association member carriers. Sprint will also support device changes that allow regional carriers to provision, manage and brand devices independently through CCA's Device Hub.

Sprint's new roaming partners include:

  • Bluegrass Cellular, serving Kentucky
  • Blue Wireless, serving New York and Pennsylvania
  • Pine Belt Wireless, serving Alabama
  • Pioneer Cellular, serving Oklahoma and Kansas
  • Public Service Wireless, serving Alabama and Georgia
  • Syringa Wireless, serving Idaho
  • Rural Independent Network Alliance (RINA) members and their partners:
    • Strata Networks, serving Utah, Wyoming and Colorado
    • Silver Star Wireless, serving Wyoming and Idaho
    • All West Wireless Inc., serving Wyoming and Utah
    • NNTC, serving Colorado
    • Snake River Personal Communications Service, serving Oregon
    • CTC Telecom Inc., serving Idaho
    • South Central Communications Inc., serving Utah
    • Custer Telephone Wireless, serving Idaho
    • Breakaway Wireless, serving Utah

Sprint had previously announced deals with nTelos, SouthernLINC Wireless, C Spire Wireless, Nex-Tech Wireless, Flat Wireless, SI Wireless, which does business as MobileNation, Inland Cellular, Illinois Valley Cellular, Carolina West Wireless, James Valley Telecommunications, Phoenix Wireless and VTel Wireless.

Interestingly, six rural carriers are now supporting both Verizon's more established LTE in Rural America initiative and Sprint's LTE roaming program. They are Bluegrass Cellular; Pioneer Cellular; Strata Networks; Carolina West; Custer Telephone Cooperative and Phoenix Wireless.

Sprint is collaborating with CCA on the group's Data Access Hub, which serves as a clearinghouse for participating members to create reciprocal roaming agreements with CCA member operators. The CCA Data Access Hub expands collaboration opportunities among carriers, eases roaming implementation across carriers and makes it easier and less costly to expand 4G LTE coverage.

Sprint is also continuing its work with the NetAmerica Alliance on its Smart Market Alliance for Rural Transformation program. Under that initiative, Sprint is giving NetAmerica members the ability to access its network and to build new networks in partnership with Sprint. Sprint said is licensing its unused 800 MHz and 1900 MHz spectrum to NetAmerica members that wish to build LTE networks on the spectrum. Smaller carriers that agree to build LTE networks through the program can also make use of Sprint's core and its Network Vision architecture.

For more:
- see this release

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