T-Mobile affiliate iWireless aims to launch LTE in Q3, strikes LTE roaming deal with T-Mobile

ATLANTA--T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) affiliate iWireless plans to launch its first LTE network in Iowa late in the third quarter of this year and struck a nationwide LTE roaming deal with T-Mobile. However, iWireless CEO Craven Shumaker said the company is exploring additional LTE roaming deals.

IWireless covers around 2.1 million POPs in Iowa for T-Mobile, and Shumaker said the company's goal is to cover 80 percent of that footprint with LTE by the end of the second quarter of 2016. The company aims to have its first market lit up by the end of September and then expand rapidly from there.

In an interview with FierceWireless here at the Competitive Carriers Association Global Expo, Shumaker said that the launch is a "very significant build for us." He said iWireless plans to cover all of the large cities in Iowa and then deploy LTE to another roughly 800,000 POPs through partnerships with independent local telephone companies in more-rural parts of the state. IWireless has 60 such partnerships, Craven said.

T-Mobile owns a stake in iWireless alongside the company Iowa Network Services. IWireless is privately held, and Shumaker declined to reveal how many customers the company has or how much revenue it took in last year.

The first cities in Iowa to get LTE service from iWireless will be Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Marshalltown, Muscatine and the Quad Cities (Davenport, Bettendorf, Moline, Ill. and Rock Island, Ill.). Additionally, iWireless will also be expanding LTE to its rural footprint, covering towns and regions along key travel routes I-80, I-35, I-380, U.S. Highway 30 (between Cedar Rapids and Marshalltown) and U.S. Highway 20 (between Waterloo and Dubuque).

IWireless is investing $35 million to deploy LTE and is teaming up with Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Networks, which is one of T-Mobile's key LTE network vendors, alongside Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC). Shumaker said iWireless is upgrading its GSM and HSPA+ network gear, in addition to all of its network cores; the company is adding an LTE network core.

Although iWireless is getting into the LTE game late, Shumaker said that the company will have the latest releases of LTE available for its network and that it is planning to deploy carrier aggregation, Wi-Fi calling and Voice-over-LTE technologies down the road.

Shumaker said iWireless plans to deploy a 10x10 MHz LTE network using a combination of 11700 MHz AWS-1 spectrum and 1900 MHz PCS spectrum, depending upon which markets have more spectrum in a particular band. T-Mobile is also using those bands for its LTE network, as well as the 700 MHz A Block. However, Shumaker said it is unclear whether iWireless customers will have devices that will be able to roam onto T-Mobile's 700 MHz footprint.

Shumaker said that iWireless is "looking at" the roaming hub that CCA has set up for small carriers. Sprint (NYSE: S) is the main player in the hub, which allows small and rural carriers to connect to the hub to roam onto the networks of all of the players in the hub. T-Mobile is part of the steering committee for the roaming hub but is not yet allowing CCA members to connect to its network via the hub. Shumaker said that iWireless is also "very interested" in international LTE roaming deals. He called the hub a "way to expand LTE footprint outside of what T-Mobile may have."

Launching LTE will help iWireless improve the quality of service it can offer its customers and improve churn, Shumaker said. He also said it "allows us to compete in the business arena in Iowa," especially for small and medium-sized businesses. Shumaker said that although iWireless does not operate under T-Mobile's name, it follows many of the "uncarrier" moves T-Mobile has engaged in, including equipment-installment plans. He said iWireless is looking to add Wi-Fi calling as well, just as T-Mobile has done.  

Shumaker noted that Iowa is a competitive wireless market in which all of the national players compete but that LTE will give iWireless more capacity and offer customers higher speeds. "We believe that what we're building will be competitive" with all the other carriers, he said.

The move to LTE could enable iWireless to increase its perceived value with customers and expand its revenues, Shumaker said. "We think we'll see people picking larger [data] buckets than what they're doing today," he said.  

For more:
- see this iWireless release

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