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Globecomm Stalking Rural LTE Success

Carol Wilson
8/29/2013

Globecomm Systems is in the news this week for going private, via a $340 million-dollar buyout by Wasserstein & Co., but the company is also trying to make news with its efforts to bring 4G LTE to rural areas via serving up hosted core network services to rural carriers.

By offering both a hosted core network service and established relationships with existing technology vendors, Globecomm Systems Inc. says it can enable rural network operators to put the spectrum they own into service more quickly and with greater chance of success in the hotly competitive LTE market.

Brett Calder, director of North American wireless operations, said:

We have half-a-dozen networks in development and a couple of them have launched commercially. But there are dozens, probably somewhere around 100, smaller companies that are wireline only or wireline and wireless that for some reason speculated on buying 700 MegaHertz spectrum and found the road more challenging than they ever imagined. We think we can help them get into business.

Each of those companies faces a deadline for using their hard-won spectrum, although those deadlines vary depending on whether or not the companies filed for a waiver to get extra time. Calder says many are facing June 2014 deadlines for putting that spectrum to use.

But the cost of building wireless facilities and the uncertainty of the ability to compete, especially when the market is often swayed by handsets that aren't available to smaller carriers, have kept some wireless spectrum holders on the sidelines. Others are trying to decide whether to view LTE as a mobile service, a fixed service, or both.

One of Globecomm's biggest success stories to date, however, is a company that by its own assessment chose to go "all-in" on wireless. Chariton Valley Wireless, a unit of Chariton Valley Telephone Corp., serving rural areas of Missouri, has spent the last two years simultaneously building out 3G and 4G LTE networks on its 700MHz spectrum, after hitting a fork in the road in 2010 where its entire wireless business was concerned.

Chariton had been in the wireless business since 1991, building successive generations of wireless access networks but always working with a hosting partner on the core network side, says Ryan Johnson, director of sales and marketing. Faced with whether to invest in more access network construction, Chariton was swayed by the reality that consumers were dropping their wireline service and that wireless was likely its future business, and by the opportunity to partner with Verizon as part of its LTE in Rural America network. (See LTE Watch: Verizon Pushes Ahead With Rural Plans.)

After looking at hosting options, Chariton chose Globecomm and began its multi-network buildout in 2011, hitting a soft launch of its 3G CDMA network in January of 2012 and expecting its 4G LTE service to be up and running within the next month.

By getting into 3G first, Chariton Valley was able to get smartphones into the hands of its customers more than 18 months ahead of its 4G launch, including its first Apple iPhones, following an agreement reached in March of this year. By working with Globecomm and its technology partner, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Chariton Valley was able to get into service faster.

Its first 3G service was actually a fixed wireless option, which the carrier offered while continuing to work out details around 3G handsets, such as preferred roaming lists and configuration issues, and Chariton Valley is looking to 4G LTE as a strong candidate for fixed broadband service as well as a mobile service, Johnson says.

The company believes it can deliver reliable speeds of 6 Megabits per second to 12 Mbit/s downstream and 2 Mbit/s to 5 Mbit/s upstream, without the outage problems competitive satellite services sometimes suffer during rainstorms. Those speeds will enable Chariton Valley to compete for broadband business in areas surrounding its local incumbent footprint.

"A lot of rural areas have been overlooked by the bigger [incumbents] and need an alternative to slower DSL," he says. In areas with population densities of two customers per mile, it is more cost-effective to build a wireless tower than to attempt to push fiber closer to the customer to deliver more bandwidth than a long-reach DSL line can offer.

Chariton Valley also believes it is sitting on enough spectrum to cover future demand, including AWS spectrum that it used to migrate its 2G TDMA network to GSM back in 2005.

Not every small telco is willing to be as aggressive as Chariton Valley has been, nor to work out as many ways to use its spectrum, Globecomm's Calder admits. But he sees a growing number looking to LTE to replace early deployments of proprietary fixed wireless technologies or older mobile network technologies. "If they have their own frequencies and they want to do it right, they are coming to a conclusion that LTE is the best choice," he says.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson
8/29/2013 | 12:18:52 PM
Re: M&A?
Possibly, if they own spectrum in areas where Verizon and AT&T  decide they want to improve their coverage. But we are talking about rural areas here and I think they are way down the priority list for the big carriers. 
DanJones
DanJones
8/29/2013 | 10:58:56 AM
M&A?
Won't a lot of these operations just become spectrum snacks for Verizon or AT&T?
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