February 7, 2011
12:15 PM -- As the industry embarks on the next generation of wireless, there are encouraging signs that rural markets will have a better chance of participating in the evolution early on, rather than playing catchup as it did with 3G. Perhaps there were some good lessons learned because rural 4G appears to be building momentum.
I’m being a little liberal with the definition of 4G, fully recognizing that there is debate about its true definition. But for the sake of argument I characterize 4G as both WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, including both fixed and mobile deployments. (See FauxG.)
In some regards the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or as its better known in these circles, the broadband stimulus program, is responsible for this momentum. The RUS portion of the program funded 84 last-mile broadband wireless projects, many of which were WiMax, and a few of which were LTE.
But momentum in rural 4G started before the stimulus program. Companies like Stelera Wireless , Mosaic Telecom , DigitalBridge Communications Corp. , and Agri-Valley Broadband Inc. have moved forward with rural 4G without stimulus dollars.
Verizon even seems to see the benefit of extending 4G coverage to rural areas. Its LTE in Rural America program has inked five agreements with rural carriers to lease 700MHz spectrum in rural territories for 4G LTE. Verizon's rural LTE partners to date include Cellcom Inc. , Bluegrass Cellular , Pioneer Cellular, Cross Telephone and Thumb Cellular . There are more are on the way, according to Verizon.
There’s also an effort afoot by the new NetAmerica Alliance LLC to aggregate rural wireless carriers into a national 4G presence. NetAmerica plans to follow the familiar CellularOne model, but also add aggregated network management and engineering services, among other services. NetAmerica is a spinoff of CHR Solutions, and is now a standalone entity. “Our goals are to have service coverage to over 10 million POPS by mid-2012, with initial buildout beginning early this year,” says Rick Overman, NetAmerica executive vice president, alliance development. Ambitious goals, sure, but yet another sign of the growing momentum of rural 4G.
— Bernardin Arnason, Managing Partner, Pivot Group , and Publisher, Telecompetitor
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