Anyone who watches TV in the United States knows there is a battle raging in the mobile services market that involves a host of new pricing plans, but also predicated on who has the most 4G LTE coverage. In fact, it is very clear that while price matters, so does next generation mobile broadband coverage. For the moment, coverage does create the ability to demonstrate differentiated value.
In recognition that coverage translates into customers, third ranked U.S. mobile service provider Sprint in an effort to mind the coverage gap and take advantage of the sparse 4G LTE coverage in rural areas has announced that it has developed a program with the Competitive Carriers Association (CAA) and reached an agreement with the NetAmerica Alliance (NAA) to make it easy and affordable for rural customers to obtain 4G LTE service.
You have to give Sprint credit for finding a solution that is a potential game-changer. The affiliation with CAA opens up the opportunity to reach member competitive wireless providers and stakeholders whose 100 carriers cover 95 percent of the U.S. For its part, the NetAmerica Alliance is a peer-to-peer union of independent Communication Service Providers (CSPs) who have joined forces through programs, services, and investments to assure rural areas are not left behind in deploying 4G LTE.
The new arrangements will enable rural carriers to partner with Sprint based on their affiliations with CCA and NAA for preferred roaming and network build-out and “sharing” through such things as a central data hub roaming clearinghouse, access to a 4G device ecosystem, and assistance in building Sprint-certified 4G networks. It is aimed at a win/win where Sprint gets access to rural customers and rural operators can provide their customers with inexpensive access and roaming to 4G LTE.
“Every American, regardless of where they live or work, should have access to high-speed mobile broadband,” said Masayoshi Son, Sprint chairman. “The programs developed by Sprint, CCA and the NetAmerica Alliance are a strong first step to improving availability of LTE service and providing greater device choice for Americans in rural areas. They are also a clear demonstration of Sprint’s long-term commitment to bring real competition to the wireless industry.”
In a keynote address at the CCA Global Expo, Son invited members of CCA and NAA to join with Sprint in accelerating their plans for deploying 4G LTE. While this will not happen overnight, to facilitate the critical roaming piece, beginning in January 2015, Sprint plans to offer 4G LTE devices that will include a chipset allowing the devices to roam on the lower 700MHz spectrum primarily in use by CCA and NetAmerica Alliance Members.
“Working together we can offer a faster network, better devices and a better customer experience,” Son said. “I am confident we can take on the duopoly of Verizon and AT&T, which currently are the only 4G LTE carriers in many parts of the U.S.”
The puzzle pieces constructed to fit the vision of nationwide 4G LTE
As outlined by the program partners, the goal is to solve the problems of the mobile broadband digital divide. As anyone who is familiar with the challenges knows, when it comes to 4G LTE rural operators do not have the money to build new networks, lack affordable nationwide 4G LTE roaming, and tend to be hamstrung by the types of devices they can offer their customers. The new programs are designed to rectify all of these issues while making the partners more competitive.
“Our programs with CCA and NetAmerica are a significant step forward for Sprint, for rural carriers throughout the U.S. and, most importantly, for rural customers who deserve a more competitive marketplace that offers greater access to high-speed mobile broadband service,” said Stephen Bye, chief technology officer at Sprint. “We are very pleased to be working alongside rural carriers to provide customers faster networks, better coverage and access to a wider range of handsets.”
The agreements with the affiliated program partners touch all of the important bases. Under the program that establishes Sprint’s Rural Roaming Preferred Provider Program with CCA:
Steven K. Berry, President & CEO of CCA, commented that, “Today’s announcement is not only a new collective way of thinking for wireless operators, but it is also an exciting, real solution for smaller carriers to get to 4G LTE and get access to the latest devices. For over three years, CCA has been pursuing competitive opportunities for carriers on both the policy and business fronts, and this is proof positive that we are making great strides. Sprint is thinking outside the box to promote competition – partnering and working with smaller carriers to create a robust nationwide network, and this provides a necessary opportunity for every carrier who wants to remain independent, while providing a national network for their customers.”
Under the agreement with NetAmerica and its Small Market Alliance for Rural Transformation (SMART) program:
“This is a landmark day for the rural carrier market and for the rural consumer,” said Roger Hutton, Chairman and CEO of NetAmerica. “Through the Sprint and NetAmerica shared network alliance, we are providing the 4G LTE mobile solution rural carriers so desperately need to compete and we are delivering on our promise to let rural consumers live and work where they choose without compromise.”
There is a saying in business that the path to success to think globally but act locally. As the quotes above demonstrate, if you replace the term “globally” with “nationally” Sprint strategically is following the formula, and rural carriers and their customers along with Sprint stand to be the beneficiaries.
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