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C Spire lights up LTE in Mississippi

Mon, 09/10/2012 - 2:19pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

Regional provider C Spire Wireless has switched on its LTE network in Mississippi after problems getting equipment compatible with its 700 MHz A-block spectrum caused a nine-month delay in the service's launch.

The network went live today in Greenville, Miss., and will expand to 30 more markets in the state by the end of October, plus six additional Mississippi markets by the end of this year. Together, the markets covered by the network will span 2,700 square miles and 1.2 million people.

“This technology will improve opportunities for taking care of business on the go and carrying out numerous mobile tasks at a pace that’s significantly faster than consumers have ever experienced before on a wireless network," said Bryan Templeton, regional manager of retail operations for C Spire.

Verizon Wireless also offers LTE service in Mississippi, a national competitor to C Spire's regional network. AT&T has yet to launch LTE in the state.

C Spire pledged at a March conference to launch LTE with a "full suite" of devices. Its LTE portfolio currently comprises a single Android smartphone, the Motorola Photon Q. Customers can pre-register for the carrier's LTE-capable Samsung Galaxy S III, and a USB modem from Franklin Wireless is "coming soon."

C Spire had originally planned to use its 700 MHz A-block and B-block spectrum for its LTE network but was forced to push out the service's planned December 2011 launch after it was unable to get devices and equipment compatible with the niche band class.

It has since switched infrastructure vendors, swapping out Samsung for equipment from Alcatel-Lucent, and will use spectrum re-farmed from its 3G network to support its LTE service instead of its 700 MHz holdings.

It has not said when the 700 MHz spectrum will be incorporated with its LTE network. C Spire faces possible FCC penalties if it fails to meet build-out requirements for the spectrum by June 2013.

The 700 MHz spectrum held by C Spire is in a different band class than licenses in the same band held by AT&T and Verizon Wireless, so LTE smartphones operating on C Spire's 700 MHz spectrum aren't compatible with the networks of the larger operators, even though their LTE networks also use the 700 MHz band. This makes it impossible for C Spire to forge critical roaming agreements with the AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

C Spire has said it cannot find enough LTE smartphones compatible with its 700 MHz spectrum to be able to launch the service on the band. U.S. Cellular, which holds the same 700 MHz band class as C Spire, launched an LTE network on its 700 MHz spectrum in March with a Samsung tablet.

C Spire sued AT&T, Motorola Mobility and Qualcomm this summer for allegedly colluding to prevent it from entering the LTE market.

The suit claims that AT&T and the two vendors manipulated international standards bodies into creating a band class that would block other operators from using the same LTE network equipment and devices, giving it an edge over its competitors. AT&T, Motorola Mobility and Qualcomm say the suit lacks merit and are working to have it dismissed.

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