by Scott Johnson
Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Sunday, April 1, 2012 - 2:00 AM MDT
Sprint Nextel joined the Rural Cellular Association (RCA) in April 2011, the reasons for joining at that time could have been motivated by the proposed AT&T purchase of T-Mobile and increasing their lobbying power with the RCA. Recently though, Sprint has been working towards partnerships with other RCA members on network sharing and spectrum hosting arrangements to increase their LTE coverage footprint.
Roaming agreements are crucial to regional carriers and smaller nationwide carriers alike. Without nationwide roaming agreements, regional carriers cannot offer a competitive product. Smaller nationwide carriers like Sprint cannot compete with the likes of AT&T and Verizon without roaming agreements that extend their network over a similar footprint. When roaming agreements extend to advanced technology, it vastly benefits both the carriers and the customers.
When Lightsquared’s nationwide LTE network dissipated in the wake of GPS interference issues, so did the LTE plans of several regional carriers. These carriers had seen an opportunity to gain LTE connectivity for their customers without the need to use their own spectrum. They also would have avoided trying to work with device manufacturers to procure equipment that will work on their spectrum, which is often fragmented among different bands or resides on different band classes from on which LTE is currently being deployed. AT&T and Verizon have recently come under fire for using band classes that are not interoperable with the other 700mhz frequencies for which these regional carriers hold licenses, prompting the FCC to look into addressing interoperability concerns. This lack of interoperability would significantly increase the price of a 700mhz LTE device for other smaller carriers. The carriers lack the spectral resources to deploy LTE on other bands without refarming spectrum and affecting their legacy services. The spectrum is unable to be refarmed at this point because the carriers still need to maintain 3G and voice services on those bands to provide acceptable service to their customers.
Sprint's Projected LTE Coverage at completion of Network Vision in early 2014.
With spectrum hosting and roaming agreements, Sprint's footprint could look more like the RCA's collective footprint.
A unified RCA, partnering on LTE through network sharing and spectrum hosting arrangements could provide service covering 95% of the United States and give AT&T and Verizon wireless a major competitor. It could also provide access to advanced technology to rural customers who otherwise lack many of the internet connectivity options that those living in urban areas have enjoyed for years.