Cricket Communications Inc. has achieved nationwide 3G wireless coverage thanks to a network-sharing deal with Sprint Nextel Corp., and now it wants others to strike similar deals as the regional wireless operator builds out Long Term Evolution (LTE). (See Cricket Leaps to Nationwide.)
Speaking at the Rural Cellular Association (RCA) conference Thursday, Doug Hutcheson, CEO of new RCA member Cricket, put in his plea for more, affordable spectrum and roaming agreements.
Cricket, like the RCA, has been making the case for roaming, lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt rules that require roaming agreements between the big two -- AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless -- and their smaller competitors.
The FCC is currently looking at making the entire 700MHz band for LTE interoperable, but is still in the information-gathering stages. At this time last year, it issued a rule that requires mobile data roaming agreements between facilities-based service providers. Hutcheson said the current rules for voice and data don't live up to Cricket's own proposal. However, he does view them as progress, and is fighting Verizon's attempt to appeal the rules. (See Countdown to 4G Roaming in the US?, FCC Issues Data Roaming Rules and Verizon Blasts FCC's Roaming Rules.)
"Our perception is the status of voice roaming has improved in large part because of the agreements we entered into together," Hutcheson said. "But the fight is not over. We must continue to work for voice roaming agreements with all compatible carriers."
Data roaming, too, continues to lag, hurting the LTE customer experience, he added. Cricket recently inked a deal to wholesale 4G from Clearwire LLC to replace its pact with LightSquared, whose plan has been blocked by the FCC over GPS interference issues. (See Cricket Taps Clearwire for LTE, Leap Takes Its Time on LTE and Cricket's First LTE Market Coming Soon.)
Hutcheson also stressed the need for interoperability between the different bands of LTE spectrum. He said that the creation of two different band classes in the lower 700MHz spectrum puts D-block spectrum holders at risk for unfavorable costs, decreased time-to-market and handset selection, and fewer roaming agreement opportunities. Cricket doesn't yet have spectrum here, but has an agreement in place to acquire 12MHz in the 700MHz A block spectrum from Verizon in Chicago. (See Verizon, Leap Swap Some Spectrum.)
Network sharing will become more critical to Cricket as it rolls out LTE. Hutcheson pointed to Sprint's Network Vision strategy as an example of what that sharing scenario could look like. It's not as radical as it sounds, he said. European operators already have network-sharing agreements in place, and the U.S. is at least looking at reciprocal roaming agreements.
"Carriers must continue to press for reasonable roaming rates and arrangements," Hutcheson said. "We have come a long way in the past 10 years in many important and exciting ways, but we're just beginning."
â€” Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile