Sprint teams with C Spire on LTE roaming

NEW ORLEANS--Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) is working with regional operator C Spire Wireless to enable LTE roaming across multiple spectrum bands. Speaking at the Competitive Carriers Association conference here, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said that his company wants to be the preferred roaming partner for smaller operators in the United States and is working with C Spire, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and others to make that happen.

Specifically, Hesse said that Sprint is working on a solution that will allow LTE roaming across 850 MHz, 1900 MHz and 700 MHz spectrum. Sprint and C Spire have already completed intercarrier roaming tests. "We are working closely on a technical solution for intercarrier 4G roaming between our network and others," Hesse  said.

C Spire Wireless launched its LTE service last September in Mississippi using gear from Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ: ALU). The company launched the network in 1700 MHz AWS spectrum and 1900 MHz PCS spectrum, and not its Band Class 12 700 MHz spectrum it had initially planned to use. The company said it didn't deploy in the 700 MHz spectrum because it lacked devices.

Roaming is a critical issue for smaller operators. Many are hesitant to deploy LTE in their spectrum holdings because they are uncertain about roaming arrangements with larger operators. Earlier this week, Carolina West Wireless CEO Slayton Stewart said that although his company has spectrum in various bands, including 850 MHz, 700 MHz, AWS and 1900 MHz, it is struggling to decide which band to use for LTE. "We have plenty of spectrum and that almost confuses it," he said. "We are not sure what direction to go because we don't know how it impacts the device ecosystem … We have gone through the RFPs and we know the price of LTE. It's cheaper to build LTE than maintain 3G," Stewart said.

In February, Qualcomm unveiled a new chipset solution that it argues will help device makers worldwide overcome issues related LTE spectrum fragmentation by providing them with a multimode LTE design. The new solution, dubbed the RF360 Front End Solution, is actually a whole family of chips designed to mitigate LTE band fragmentation while improving RF performance and helping device makers develop multiband, multimode mobile devices supporting all seven cellular modes, including FDD-LTE, TD-LTE, WCDMA, EV-DO, CDMA 1x, TD-SCDMA and GSM/EDGE.

During his talk at the CCA show Hesse also said that Sprint is expanding its LTE coverage to 21 new markets, including Los Angeles, Charlotte, N.C., and Memphis, Tenn. The company now offers LTE in 88 markets nationwide.

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