C Spire Wireless' first round of LTE equipment won't support its 700 MHz spectrum, network vendor Alcatel-Lucent said.
The decision to only have the base stations initially be compatible with the spectrum it is using for its 3G network is in keeping with C Spire's earlier announcement that it would not use its 700 MHz lower A- and B-block licenses for its September LTE launch because it could not find enough devices compatible with the niche band class.
Sandy Motley, recently promoted as Alcatel-Lucent's chief operations officer, said in an interview with Wireless Week that the base stations currently being installed for the upcoming network launch would not support C Spire's Band 12 licenses. C Spire named Alcatel-Lucent on Monday as the vendor for its LTE network.
If C Spire does decide to roll out service on the 700 MHz band, "it's not a difficult thing to do" on top of its existing infrastructure, Motley said.
"Really, the key driver is the device, how many bands are on the device and what your expectations are in terms of roaming," she said, adding that Alcatel-Lucent does offer Band 12 equipment that C Spire could use. "That's really where the planning starts."
C Spire has not said when it plans to incorporate its 700 MHz spectrum into its LTE network. However, it has said that running the service on spectrum repurposed from its 3G service is not a long-term solution, since it will have more difficulty scaling to handle increased data use than a network running on its lower A- and B-block holdings.
The implications of C Spire's decision to leave out support for its 700 MHz spectrum in the LTE equipment currently being installed by Alcatel-Lucent are not clear. Exclusion of the band could indicate the delay on using the spectrum will be more long-term than short-term, as adding support for its 700 MHz holdings would mean upgrading all of its base stations. C Spire was not able to provide comment on the subject.
C Spire risks significant FCC penalties if it does not put its 700 MHz licenses to use by next summer. Under FCC requirements for the band, licensees of the lower A- and B-blocks must cover 35 percent of the area covered by their spectrum by June 2013.
If operators fail to meet the deadline, the amount of time they have to reach the next deployment deadline may be reduced by two years, giving them eight years instead of 10 years to cover 70 percent of the area covered by their licenses. There are some exceptions depending on when the licenses were actually obtained.
C Spire's upcoming LTE launch will cover 1.2 million people in Mississippi. The operator has not specified which of the spectrum bands running its CDMA and GSM networks will be used for LTE. The FCC's spectrum dashboard shows it holds PCS, AWS and 800 MHz spectrum in addition to its 700 MHz licenses.
Alcatel-Lucent is upgrading some of C Spire's CDMA base stations to support LTE, as well as adding in new equipment. Motley said Alcatel-Lucent began working through the specifics of its contract with C Spire about six months ago, around the time C Spire announced it was delaying the launch of its LTE network by nine months.
The state of C Spire's contract with Samsung, the vendor it originally named for the LTE build, remains unknown.
Alcatel-Lucent began installing C Spire's LTE equipment about three months ago, Motley said. The deployment includes base stations, backhaul, wireless packet core and the IMS network core spanning 360 cell sites.