U.S. Cellular to expand LTE coverage to 87% of its customers in 2013

U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) said it plans to boost its LTE coverage to 87 percent of its customer base by the end of 2013, up from 61 percent now.

The company said that by the end of the year customers in more than 3,800 additional cities and towns will have access to its LTE. U.S. Cellular said it will deliver LTE to "select cities" in California, Kansas and Nebraska and its existing LTE service will be expanded to include additional cities in Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Some of the cities that will receive U.S. Cellular's 4G LTE include Lincoln, Neb.; Omaha, Neb.; Manhattan, Kan.; Eureka, Calif.; and Ukiah, Calif. A U.S. Cellular spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about more locations or the timing of the LTE deployment throughout 2013. The carrier currently offers 10 LTE devices.

U.S. Cellular ended the third quarter with 5.8 million subscribers and is expected to report fourth-quarter results soon.

It is unclear how U.S. Cellular's LTE deployment this year will be affected by its decision to sell some of its major Midwestern markets and spectrum to Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) for $480 million. As part of the deal, U.S. Cellular will offload its Chicago, St. Louis, central Illinois and three other Midwest markets to Sprint. The deal includes a transfer of PCS spectrum and around 585,000 customers, or about 10 percent of U.S. Cellular's total customer base.

At the time the deal was announced in November, U.S. Cellular CEO Mary Dillon said that the company needed to make substantial investments in these markets to deploy LTE, so instead it decided to sell the markets. Dillon said that after the deal U.S. Cellular will be smaller but more profitable. 

U.S. Cellular also confirmed late last year that had started testing Voice over LTE technology but has not yet said when it will launch the service.

For more:
- see this release

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