One take away from the recent Competitive Carriers Association Fall 2013 event was the desire by many rural operators to move into the LTE space, both to cater to customer demand as well as to tap into the spectrum efficiencies inherent in the LTE technology.
One rural carrier taking a bigger leap than most is SouthernLINC, which recently announced plans to roll out LTE services beginning in 2015. While that would still seem to be a long time in the future, for SouthernLINC the move will see the carrier jump a whole generation, moving from its current 2G-based iDEN offering to the “4G” world of LTE.
Tom Newdome, engineering director at SouthernLINC, explained that the generational jump was decided on both to cater to its existing consumer base as well as to serve the needs of its parent company Southern Company, which is reliant on its wireless subsidiary to provide communication services to its thousands of employees spread across the Southeast.
“A lot of our systems for our legacy systems now have a lot more data sensors for things such as meter reading,” Newdome said. “From a data standpoint that has changed the way [Southern Company] operates. Their data rate needs have moved beyond the 19 [kilobits per second] we have been offering through iDEN.”
Also forcing SouthernLINC’s hand into its LTE decision was the recent loss of iDEN roaming partner Sprint, which earlier this year finally shuttered its iDEN network that had provided SouthernLINC customers with nationwide roaming. SouthernLINC did plan ahead of Sprint’s move, announcing in March it has signed an agreement with mobile virtual network enabler Prepaid Wireless Wholesale to sell “nationwide high-speed data, voice and messaging services” within its current footprint across portions of the Southeast.
Ericsson and Cisco were both named by SouthernLINC in helping with its LTE launch, partners that Newdome said had so far been very helpful in working with the carrier’s unique network. In bolstering its network to prepare for the data-centric LTE services, Newdome said the carrier will be looking to replace a number of its current T-1 lines used to backhaul traffic from its sites to Ethernet, a move he added would be eased by the in-ground infrastructure of Southern Company.
“We will be able to take advantage of Southern Company when it comes to upgrading our sites,” Newdome explained.
As with many regional operators, SouthernLINC’s move to LTE included some tough spectrum decisions. The carrier controls less than 10 megahertz of spectrum across portions of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi. Its use of iDEN was ideal for this challenge as it could deploy network channels in less than 1 megahertz of spectrum. The LTE standard provides for nearly the same small channels slices down to 1.4 megahertz per channel.
“We are confident we will have enough spectrum to handle the needs of both iDEN and LTE” Newdome said.
While LTE looks to be the future, Newdome did note that iDEN will remain a significant part of SouthernLINC’s business, at least for the near term.
“We will continue supporting mission critical push-to-talk services,” Newdome said. “Many of our public-safety customers still rely on that and until there is something equivalent in the LTE space we will support that on our network.”
This could be good news for Motorola, which is the exclusive provider of iDEN handsets and equipment. While iDEN remains a robust offering in Latin America, Motorola’s LTE business has not seen a high level of success. Newdome noted that while the initial LTE deployment does not involve Motorola, he said there was still a chance that its long-time vendor could play a role in its network migration plans.
Bored? Why not follow me on Twitter?