Blog Post

Verizon’s 4G network is about to get a lot more rural

Verizon is building its new LTE network is some pretty small cities as its network expansion has long moved past the big metro markets, but it’s preparing to scale down even smaller with the help of rural carriers.

Verizon in a blog post on Tuesday revealed that six operators would have LTE networks online using its airwaves by the end of 2012, giving it 4G access in vast swathes of the country where Big Red doesn’t plan on extending its network. Two of those networks have already launched, Cellcom in Wisconsin and Pioneer Cellular in Oklahoma. The remaining four Verizon didn’t name.

Verizon’s LTE in Rural America program has 17 participants, and in total they’ve leased enough 700 MHz spectrum from Verizon to cover 2.7 million people in rural communities covering 144,000 square miles. A Verizon spokesperson said the carrier is still courting more partners.

Each operator partner will get considerable benefits from tying up with the country’s largest carrier:

  • They get access to 4G spectrum, which many of these operators failed to win or couldn’t afford to bid on at auction.
  • They can get their networks up much faster because they only need to build LTE radio infrastructure; Verizon is letting them tap into its core and service delivery networks.
  • They get reciprocal roaming agreements – not only to Verizon’s customers get to roam into their networks, their subscribers can wander through Verizon’s vast metro LTE footprint covering 235 million people.
  • They get access to devices. By virtue of using Verizon’s spectrum, these rural carriers will be compatible with any 4G device designed for Verizon’s network. The most obvious example of this is Cellcom, which will land the new iPhone 5 a week after it goes on sale at the big operators.
Cellcom’s LTE coverage thanks to its roaming agreement with Verizon

Conversely rural operators who decided to invest in their own spectrum are getting the cold shoulder from handset makers who are making devices primarily for the big carriers.

Verizon’s plans for rural America don’t stop at roaming. Big Red also plans to use LTE as a broadband access technology in an areas where it can’t – or chooses not to – offer DSL. Verizon has launched its HomeFusion residential LTE service in a few markets, but there are signs its getting ready to ramp up the service.. ZyXel on Monday unveiled a new LTE broadband router, the LTE5122, which supports Verizon’s unique flavor of 700 MHz. If ZyXel plans actually sell this device, its only customer options are Verizon and its rural carrier partners.

8 Responses to “Verizon’s 4G network is about to get a lot more rural”

  1. I would assume one of the markets they will be giving 4G to is Element Mobile (who took over central WIsconsin’s Alltel area) ?? While this is great, wouldn’t it be better to buy out Element Mobile and put a name like Verizon in the area?
    I came over from Alltel and was switched to Element Mobile without having a choice. The day my contract was up I switched to US Cellular due to Element’s lack of care, customer service, and service in general.
    Even if Verizon gave Element 4G, I would not sign up with Element Mobile again….I would, however, consider signing up with the Verizon name…

  2. Michael Elling

    What are the average cell diameters typically and what are the maximum reach that some have set up for? I assume the addressable market will be for the canisters (fixed) and also for handsets (mobile).

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Jason,

      Why? Verizon just wants to expand its coverage footprint. It doesn’t necessarily want to compete head-to-head with every small carrier in every small town in America. Even if it does offer its own 3G network in many of these areas, it would take years for it to expand LTE to them. This gives it the footprint with little to no investment.

      • Hi Kevin,

        Taking years to expand LTE in rural areas is not necessarily true. From what a few Verizon techs have told me while in northern Michigan, is many of their towers will be on microwave backhaul which is much more cost effective than fiber to every tower. They told me last month that in about a year and a half, Verizon has backauled 95% of the towers in northern Mi, including the upper penninsula, and will be ready to turn on by early next spring. That is a huge area completed in a relatively short period of time. I am in favor of companies sharing their assets in programs like this because everyone benefits.