September 10, 2014 — With the inking of LTE agreements with 15 additional rural and regional network carriers, Sprint has now grown its Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program to includes 27 carriers, which will extend LTE coverage in 27 states, covering 565,000 square miles and a population of more than 38 million people.
On Tuesday’s Tower and Small Cell Summit panel, “What Fighting the Duopoly means to Rural Tower Development,” panelists discussed the impact of those agreements on providers of wireless infrastructure.
Todd Rowley, vice president, business development at Sprint, said the goal of the carrier’s rural coverage strategy is focus on creating wireless partners in rural areas to facilitate the creation of a nationwide footprint for Sprint customers. The agreements require each carrier to build out all of its coverage with LTE within 12 to 24 months.
“It has really worked to increase our LTE build out outside our coverage areas. We are looking to continue that effort and accelerate builds in other areas of the country,” he said. “We are looking [to sign rural agreements] that cover 3 million square miles to complement our footprint over the next year and a half.”
Illinois Valley Cellular, which operates 90 miles southwest of Chicago, has a roaming agreement with Sprint, which is facilitating its LTE build out. Bobby Kaminski, senior director product development, oversees the LTE build out for Illinois Valley Cellular, did everything but hug and high five Rowley, who sat next to him on the dais.
“It is a tough market to operate in as a small rural carrier, being so close to Chicago,” Kaminski said. “I want to shake Sprint’s hand and thank them for the infrastructure discounts that we are seeing. It’s tremendous. I mean, we are seeing Tier One pricing. I compared it with Ericsson and thought it couldn’t be right. Look at all the services!”
IVC is able to keep up with Sprint’s network software downloads. Now, IVC’s core is updated the same time as Sprint’s core.
“It was a real eye opener for us as a small carrier. It allows us to compete on the infrastructure side with the duopoly to have a great network,” Kaminski said.
The Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program gives smaller carriers a to high-speed mobile broadband solutions by providing the carriers with low-cost access to Sprint’s nationwide 4G LTE network and an opportunity to access an expanded range of mobile devices. In addition to reducing roaming costs for carriers and improving competition, the Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program broadens Sprint’s coverage footprint by giving its customers the ability to roam on participating carriers’ networks.
NetAmerica Alliance, which began in 2012, has launched a program with Sprint called the Small Market Alliance for Rural Transformation (SMART), which provides participating rural carriers the capabilities they need to build and run 4G LTE mobile networks. Using a federated cooperation model, NetAmerica hosts the 4G core and provides marketing support, program management, resource partners, services development.
“Rural markets lack scale. There are a precious few people in a large geographic area, which as historically been an uneconomic market to serve. It has been bolstered in the past by government programs, but those are going away,” said Chuck Harris, alliance development, NetAmerica. “We knew that rural carriers would need to make a bold move into 4G and we wanted to find a way to create that scale that would provide a business model for LTE build out.”