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.