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Pioneer launches rural LTE over Verizon spectrum

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Pioneer Cellular has added a small but notable entry to the growing list of LTE networks in the U.S. Telecompetitor reports Pioneer’s LTE service has gone live in six counties in Oklahoma, making it the first of Verizon’s “LTE in Rural America” partners to turn on its network.

The program is all part of the Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) master plan to get accelerate the usually slow slog of new technology from urban to rural areas by recruiting rural operators to do the work. Verizon essentially owns a nationwide LTE license in the upper 700 MHz band, and while it plans to build its own 4G network covering 260 million people in the big and small cities, it’s leasing its airwaves in rural regions to about a dozen small operators. Those carriers will help Verizon fill in the gaping holes between the urban regions.

Rural operators like Pioneer get a lot out of the deal. They’re often the ones that failed to win 4G licenses, making the Rural America program their easiest path to 4G, but more importantly they get an automatic roaming partner in Verizon, which plans to leverage their networks to expand its LTE coverage in exchange. Smaller operators that own their own spectrum will find their roaming options limited due to interoperability problems in the 700 MHz bands.

Verizon is also in the center of a powerful device ecosystem. By virtue of using the same spectrum as Verizon, Pioneer and other Rural America partners can use the same devices. According to Telecompetitor, Pioneer is launching with a home broadband router, a MiFi hotspot(s nvtl) and a dongle but no smartphones. Technically though, making any Verizon device compatible with Pioneer’s network will mean a mere software tweak. We may even see the new 4G iPad make its way to rural Oklahoma LTE networks before it appears on an LTE network in Europe or Asia.

Tower Image courtesy of Flickr user Nikhil Verma

5 Responses to “Pioneer launches rural LTE over Verizon spectrum”

  1. Glenn Gore

    Pioneer has had EVDO/3G service here for years. Verizon, Sprint and US Cellular have no coverage here at all, and AT&T and T-Mobile only offer GPRS and/or EDGE, no 3G. In rural areas all around the country there are small regional carriers that have been doing a great job serving their customers with the latest technology, taking the risk and making money from customer appreciation and loyalty. It’s great to see.

  2. Glenn Gore

    Verizon spent a considerable amount of money on the licenses the regional carriers are using in this program, so it’s not like Verizon isn’t contributing to the program. The regional carriers DID spend money building their systems in their areas, while the majors decided they were not economical enough for them, and these regionals seem to be doing a pretty good job of it, at least Pioneer is in my area, they are by far the best in terms of coverage and speed. Some may get snapped up by Verizon, but that’s business, nothing wrong with that.

    All the previous efforts by government to get high-speed broandband out into the hinterlands have been complete failures, and Verizon’s LTE overlay along with the LTEiRA program will have accomplished this goal by the middle of 2013. And as a resident of the area, I am completely happy with that.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Glenn,

      It is shocking how quickly LTE is spreading isn’t it? How long did it take Pioneer to get EV-DO in your area? It seems like the spread of LTE from urban areas to small towns to rural areas is happening much faster than with 3G.

  3. John B

    Last year when the story broke of this program developed by Verizon, I was in fear of long term effects.

    Today, I still feel this is a wolf in sheeps clothing. Yes, initially the small rural carriers placate from such deal. However, we have seen the regression in viable competiton. The small carriers have become the victims of this sequential reality. Who has better opportunity in vacuuming up these smaller carriers in the event of such failures? Verizon has essentially succeeded in gaining an extreme advantage in positioning themselves for complete takeover of these carriers knowing their complete compatibilities without spending a dime to buildout the network.

    I fear this day as we need more competition:; not less.

    John B.

  4. Glenn

    As a resident of Pioneer’s part of the world, I am thrilled at this news. There is nothing on Pioneer’s website about LTE and no announcements from them yet, but hopefully “soon”.