Sprint Expands Rural Roaming

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Sprint has signed up its first dozen rural partners for LTE roaming, an initiative it announced in March.

Using predominately small carriers that use the 700 MHz “A” block, Sprint hopes to accelerate LTE coverage in rural America and expand their own footprint. Sprint will provide competitive wireless service providers with access to 800 MHz and 1900 MHz spectrum, and national reach on Sprint’s network.

Their agreement with the NetAmerica Alliance and Competitive Carriers Association formed the Small Market Alliance for Rural Transformation (SMART), which already included a roaming deal with Ntelos.

Sprint now adds roaming agreements with Southern Communications Services, C Spire, Nex-Tech Wireless , SI Wireless, Inland Cellular, Illinois Valley Cellular, Carolina West Wireless, James Valley Telecommunications, VTel Wireless, and Phoenix Wireless.

Sprint will work with CCA to support 700 MHz Band Class 12 devices, making them compatible with Sprint’s LTE and CDMA services across the 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz bands.

The four different band classes within 700 MHz include class 12, 13, 14 and 17. Verizon acquired most of its spectrum in band class 13, while many of AT&T’s 700 MHz licenses sit in the lower C and B Blocks (class 17).

A number of smaller operators acquired 700 MHz spectrum licenses in the Lower A Blocks, which lie in band class 12. But AT&T and Verizon refused to support those bands in its handsets, arguing that it would raise the price of its handsets. That had the effect of creating islands of incompatibility for many rural carriers. Without roaming on “A Block” spectrum, small carriers and their users were locked out.

Cynics believed it was a strategy by the duopoly to force small operators out of business. See: AT&T and Verizon: No 700 MHz Interoperability For You!

The “A-Block” interference issue was caused by the potential proximity to UHF tv stations on Channel 51 and by high power MediaFLO-type broadcasting on the E-block.

Interoperability was made practical when the FCC got Dish Networks to agree to reduce their E-block radiated power. Potential interference from television on Channel 51 may be eliminated when it’s absorbed in the 600 Mhz auction next year. FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn pushed for and succeeded in getting an agreement between rural carriers and the duopoly, to enable devices to inter-operate in the lower 700 megahertz band.

Sprint’s LTE coverage now covers 225 million people, and it plans to hit the 250 million mark by mid-year. T-Mobile is a likely candidate to join, says Light Reading.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Monday, June 16th, 2014 at 2:05 pm .

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