Verizon to give rural LTE partners access to its AWS spectrum, 'XLTE' network

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) intends to allow its rural LTE roaming partners to gain access to its AWS spectrum to enhance capacity on their LTE networks, according to a Verizon executive.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Verizon's Philip Junker said Verizon has "entered into leases for AWS spectrum" with an unspecified number of its LTE in Rural America (LRA) partners. Verizon launched the LRA program in 2010 to expand LTE service in rural parts of the country via partners; Verizon's first partner carriers launched service in 2012. Verizon now counts 21 partners, 18 of which have launched LTE service, Junker said.

Junker, Verizon's executive vice president of business development and the head of the LRA program, noted that LRA members lease Verizon's 700 MHz Upper C Block spectrum. They then build out their own networks and sell service to their own customers, but have access to Verizon's network vendors, LTE device portfolio and their subscribers can roam onto Verizon's nationwide LTE network and the networks of other LRA partners. The program allows Verizon to quickly and cheaply build out rural areas.

Up until now, the LRA members only had access to Verizon's 700 MHz spectrum; the carrier's 700 MHz LTE network covers around 306 million POPs. But Verizon closed its acquisition of nationwide AWS spectrum from a group of cable companies in 2012. Since the fall of 2013, Verizon has also been busy deploying its LTE service on its nationwide AWS-1 spectrum to bolster its network capacity with as much as 20 MHz of additional spectrum. The carrier has dubbed the combination of LTE on 700 MHz and AWS spectrum as "XLTE."

Verizon said that more than 350 markets now have XLTE service (up from around 300 at the end of June). Verizon's 700 MHz LTE network is available in more than 500 markets in the U.S.

"We continue to challenge ourselves," Junker said of the overall LRA program. "We want to continue to expand the footprint." He said that Verizon knows its LRA members "are going to have a need for additional capacity to support their customers and our roamers. So we envision AWS-1 will play a role in that."

Junker said that up until now the 700 MHz spectrum Verizon has leased to its partners has been "more than sufficient" but that Verizon wants to "plan ahead." Junker declined to name which carriers have struck AWS spectrum leasing agreements with Verizon or when they might deploy AWS spectrum in their footprints.

Verizon's LRA partners include Bluegrass Cellular; Cross Telephone; Pioneer Cellular; Cellcom; Thumb Cellular; Strata Networks; S and R Communications; Carolina West; Custer Telephone Cooperative; Convergence Technologies; KPU Telecommunications; Chariton Valley Communication Corporation; Appalachian Wireless; Northwest Missouri Cellular; Chat Mobility; Matanuska Telephone Association; MTPCS' Cellular One brand; Phoenix Wireless; Triangle Communications; Nemont's Sagebrush Cellular brand; and Copper Valley Telecom.

Of those, only Phoenix Wireless, Triangle Communications and Sagebrush have not yet launched LTE service, Junker said. However, Phoenix and Triangle are new to the program as of this year. Junker said more than 220,000 customers across the 18 partners who have launched are now being served with LTE. He said Verizon's LRA partners' networks cover around 2.3 million people.

Verizon plans to launch Voice over LTE service later this year. Junker declined to say if or when Verizon's LRA members might get access to Voice over LTE capabilities, but noted that Verizon is "committed to enabling our LRA partners to bring new, advanced services to market in a reasonable timeframe."

Meanwhile, Sprint (NYSE: S) is seeking to expand its own LTE footprint via agreements with rural carriers under a similar program. In June, Sprint counted agreements with 12 carriers covering around 34 million POPs in 23 states. The participating carriers include nTelos Wireless, 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, Phoenix Wireless and VTel Wireless.

Related Articles:
Sprint to help bring rural LTE partners into the 2.5 GHz ecosystem
Sprint signs LTE roaming deals with C Spire, SouthernLINC and several rural operators
Rural LTE: Bluegrass builds LTE in Band 12 and 13 while iWireless considers LTE options
Verizon partners with MTA in Alaska for LTE, amps up competition in the market
Verizon touts numbers behind its XLTE rollout