Sprint rural LTE partner VTel launches service in Vermont

VTel Wireless, one of the 12 smaller wireless carriers Sprint (NYSE: S) announced LTE roaming deals with in June, launched LTE service in parts of Vermont on Tuesday.

VTel will offer service to 20,000 customers initially in part of Vermont, including in 24 towns such as Barnet, Berlin, Grand Isle, Hardwick, Manchester, St. Albans and Windsor, according to the AP.

VTel's wireless service will have a range of pricing options, going from $10 per month for 1 GB of data to $90 per month for 50 GB, according to VPR. The company said all of its plans include two terabytes of free online storage. Customers will not need to sign contracts, but will have to purchase devices.

The launch comes nearly four years after VTel got an $81 million federal Rural Utilities Service (RUS) broadband stimulus grant and a $35 million government loan. The company missed an initial deadline of December 2013 to deploy service, but the deadline was extended to June 2015, according to Diane Guite, VTel's vice president of business development, who spoke to VT Digger. VTel also invested around $160 million into its network, including in wireless and fiber capabilities, before receiving the federal award, company representatives told the AP.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was at the ribbon-cutting to kick off the new service, and he acknowledged the delays. "Progress has been a bit slower than we would like," Leahy said. "But it's paying dividends."

Though the grant required VTel to deliver speeds of at least 1.5 Mbps, the system the company showed off in Hardwick, Vt., showed downlink speeds of nearly 35 Mbps. VTel says average speeds are in the 15-20 Mbps range, with peak speeds of 50 Mbps.

VTel controls spectrum in the 700 MHz, AWS, PCS and 2.5 GHz bands. It's unclear what spectrum band the company is using for its LTE service, and a VTel representative could not did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It's also unclear which companies are providing the network gear for VTel, though one is likely Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC), since the AP noted that an Ericsson executive was on hand for the event. "All this application that we have here--they're just tip of the iceberg," Osama Bilal, Ericsson USA's director of technical solutions, said while demonstrating several application and use cases, including video conferencing.

VTel was one of 12 rural and regional operators Sprint announced in mid-June it would work with to expand its LTE footprint. Under the teamings, the rural carriers get low-cost access to Sprint's LTE network and help with purchasing devices with 700 MHz Band 12 capabilities.

The 12 agreements, which included a previously announced deal with nTelos Wireless, cover about 34 million POPs in 23 states. In addition to VTel, Sprint inked deals with 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 and Phoenix Wireless.

For more:
- see this AP article
- see this VT Digger article
- see this VPR article

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