A Kentucky-based cellular provider, Bluegrass Cellular, is the first to take Verizon Wireless up on its offer to lease spectrum in the 700 MHz upper C block that will help speed its delivery of 4G LTE services.
“We see 4G and LTE as very important to the future for our rural customers,” Barry Nothstine, vice president, sales and marketing of Bluegrass Cellular, told AGL Bulletin. “This is a way to quickly offer the same types of products and data speeds that the Tier Ones do.”
The spectrum lease is a part of the LTE in Rural America program by which Verizon is seeking rural carriers to jump-start the deployment of next-generation wireless in rural communities throughout the nation and to fill in the white spaces in the carrier’s coverage map.
“We are seeking companies that can assist in bringing the benefits of 4G LTE service to rural areas that currently lack Verizon Wireless coverage,” Verizon Wireless said on its website. “Together, we will plan and coordinate a local LTE deployment schedule that makes sense for both Verizon Wireless and the rural company that we are collaborating with.”
The results of this program should be good for the tower industry, according to Nothstine.
“Whether it is companies taking part in Verizon’s LTE in Rural America program or building out their own networks, we believe there will be significant opportunities for the construction of new towers, because a lot of this spectrum comes with construction deadlines,” Nothstine said. “I believe there will be a lot of steel in the air because of this. This is going to be big for the industry.”
Smartphone growth is ratcheting up for Bluegrass. In January, sales stood at 5 percent. In the latest month, that number had grown to 20 percent. The company is forecasting 35 percent smartphone sales in 2011.
“We are somewhat behind the growth percentages of smartphones reported by the Tier One carriers, but not a lot,” Nothstine said. “Growing smartphone and data use is one of our big initiatives. An LTE strategy and a solid 3G strategy are important to our growth.”
Currently, Bluegrass sports a large 3G EVDO network. It expects 4G LTE speeds to be 5 to 12 megabits per second for downloading data and 2 to 5 Mbps for uploading data to a wireless device.
“As we were looking at our 4G strategy, we wanted to serve our customers at home, which is critical, but what this agreement allows us to do is build out the LTE network quickly in our coverage area so we can also serve Verizon’s customers or its partners in the Rural America program,” Nothstine said. “But the big win for us is that our customers will be able to use LTE services nationwide, anywhere Verizon has service.”
The Bluegrass Cellular network covers approximately 900,000 POPs in 38 counties throughout Kentucky. It owns and operates many of its towers and also uses space on structures owned by tower companies.