Verizon partners with MTA in Alaska for LTE, amps up competition in the market

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has partnered with the Matanuska Telephone Association (MTA) as part of Verizon's LTE in Rural America (LRA) program in order to more broadly deploy LTE in Alaska. The newly constructed MTA network, covering 1,552 square miles, can connect to Verizon's LTE core network.

Click here for a bigger version of this info graphic from Verizon on its rural LTE efforts.

Verizon launched its own LTE network in June, which covers Anchorage, Fairbanks, North Pole, Juneau, Eagle River and the Mat-Su Valley, including Big Lake, Wasilla, Palmer, and Chugiak. Separately, MTA has launched its own network via the LRA program, and Verizon spokeswoman Robin Nicol said the MTA network is north of Anchorage in the suburbs and along the highway connecting Anchorage to Fairbanks.

MTA is one of 20 LRA participants, 13 of which have launched LTE service thus far; the program was started in 2010. Under the program, rural carriers lease Verizon's 700 MHz Upper C block spectrum and build and operate their own LTE radio networks. The strategy allows rural carriers to launch LTE without spending money on spectrum, and allows Verizon to more rapidly build out LTE coverage.

Verizon's deal with MTA comes after Verizon announced this spring it would be extending its LTE reach via the LRA program to Ketchikan, Alaska, via an agreement with KPU Telecommunications. KPU, one of three divisions of Ketchikan Public Utilities, is owned by town residents. The company is a triple-play service provider, delivering TV, Internet and phone service over some 6,000 access lines in southeastern Alaska.

In March, the Ketchikan City Council unanimously approved KPU's request to form a partnership with Verizon. According to KRBD public radio, KPU Telecom Manager Ed Cushing said at the time that possible LTE roaming revenues would provide an upside for the small, rural carrier. Thus far though, KPU has not launched LTE service, Nicol said.

The Verizon expansion adds some more spice to the wireless market in Alaska, which got a jolt in June 2012 when Alaska Communications and GCI agreed to pool their resources into a company to jointly manage their two wireless networks in a bid to cover more of Alaska and guard against incursions from Tier 1 carriers. That agreement finally closed in late July. According to their websites, Alaska Communications has LTE service in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, while GCI offers LTE service in the Anchorage area, with more markets "coming soon."

However, others aren't standing still. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) currently offers LTE service in Anchorage and Juneau, and plans to expand to Fairbanks later this year in its drive to cover more than 400 markets and 270 million POPs with LTE nationwide by the end of the year. Sprint (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) do not currently offer LTE coverage in Alaska.

T-Mobile provides voice and data services to customers in Alaska through a roaming agreement. Sprint spokeswoman Kelly Schlageter said the company is looking at an LTE deployment and roaming options but has no definitive plans, and a T-Mobile spokesman did not say if or when the carrier might launch LTE service in Alaska.

For more:
- see this Verizon post

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Article updated with additional information on Sprint and T-Mobile's coverage in Alaska.

Correction, Sept. 6, 2013: This article incorrectly stated Sprint does not have coverage in Alaska. It does not currently have LTE coverage in Alaska.