by Robert Herron
Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 1:30 PM MDT
A few months back, Sprint announced new group partnerships with members of the CCA (Competitive Carriers Association) to expand the availability of Sprint LTE availability in many places across the country outside Sprint service areas. Additionally, Sprint has recently formed a subgroup of current/future LTE providers of the CCA that is referred to as the Rural Roaming Preferred Program (RRPP). Announcing such a deal with nTelos in May, and nearly another dozen in June.
Sprint is part of the over-arching CCA, and working with its large membership group to establish a national LTE roaming group. However, where the action is happening now is with the Rural Roaming Preferred Program. RRPP members are joining a specific Sprint alliance which gives them more direct access to Sprint, their vendors, technology, devices and most importantly…Sprint’s vast spectrum holdings.
As it has been explained to us, CCA members who are not a part of Sprint’s RRRP program are using their own spectrum and resources. Current disclosed members of the RRRP are regional and rural providers nTelos, C-Spire Wireless, SouthernLINC Wireless, Nex-Tech Wireless, Carolina West Wireless, VTel Wireless, Flat Wireless, MobileNation/SI Wireless, Inland Cellular, Illinois Valley Cellular, James Valley Telecommunications and Phoenix Wireless. There are more currently in discussion. Some speculate US Cellular will be announced soon, but we have not been able to confirm that.
The news of the CCA and RRPP partnerships was well received by Sprint customers and members of the S4GRU community. Our members have been stoked at this announcement for months. Craving more details. When is this going to happen? Where, exactly? And the most important question to our readers has been, ‘how will the service be treated…native or roaming?’
In press conferences, news releases and media coverage, it is often being referred to as “LTE roaming” deals. When people see the term roaming, they immediately conjure up ideas of monthly limits or added expenses. For instance, most Sprint postpaid plans currently limit their 1xRTT and 3G EVDO data roaming to only 100MB or 300MB per month. That’s not very much. So many of our members at S4GRU have wondered whether these “LTE roaming” deals would count against current very limited roaming allotments, or if something more generous would be provided on partner LTE networks. This has been the source of some anxiety to our members who want to be excited about this, but want to understand the full impact to their usage behaviors.
Drum roll, please…
We recently have received verification from a Sprint executive, who will remain anonymous, that the coverage with the RRPP providers will be treated as native. Fully native. When you are on these rural partner networks, it will be like you are on your Sprint LTE coverage and all your normal account usages will be allowed.
If you have a 1GB data plan with Sprint. Your usage on these other networks counts against your 1GB monthly allotment. And if you have an unlimited plan on Sprint, you can use unlimited smartphone data on these rural partner networks.
The executive said the point of these new coverages is to provide a seamless customer experience travelling from Sprint LTE coverage into these new rural partner coverage areas. To feel like they are on the Sprint network. And maybe even better in many instances given the lightly used rural nature of this additional coverage. They want Sprint customers, and in turn rural partner customers on the Sprint network, to enjoy a cohesive and expanded national LTE footprint. Something that makes them more competitive with the duopoly.
Some of these rural partners already have their own operating LTE networks on varied spectrum holdings. And others are counting on Sprint spectrum to host their LTE networks or supplement them. We are told that existing LTE networks from these RRPP members on frequencies that current Sprint LTE devices support should be open as soon as logistically possible. Maybe even this summer. They continue to work out some network bugs and billing/authentication issues. Additional LTE frequencies in Band 4 and Band 12 are anticipated to be added to new upcoming devices at the end of this year or early next year and will add even more mileage.
This is great news for Sprint customers. This will open up a lot more LTE coverage. Upon full implementation, the coverage will be quite expansive in square miles. When other CCA partner providers coverage comes online, Sprint should be able to handily eclipse AT&T’s LTE network coverage. Which has recently been purported to be mothballed by AT&T, with no timelines in place to restart. We currently do not know the details of VoLTE (Voice over LTE) on these partner networks. But a VTel Wireless executive did mention recently in a Fierce Wireless article that they were deploying VoLTE themselves. Sprint has been very mum on their VoLTE plans internally or through partners.
We currently do not know if the LTE coverage that is provided by CCA members outside the RRPP will be counted as native the same way. Though T-Mobile is a member of the CCA, they are not a member of Sprint’s RRPP. So Sprint and its customers may see some unique advantages in both off network usage being counted as native and the availability of many more spectrum bands and more coverage than other standard CCA members experience.
We excitedly watch and discuss the progress in S4GRU forums. Stay tuned.
CCA Partners Sprint referenced this past March: