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Rural LTE a Challenge, says Alcatel-Lucent Exec

Thu, 03/29/2012 - 9:16am
Maisie Ramsay

ORLANDO, Fla.—Smaller wireless providers are likely to have a more difficult time deploying LTE than their top-tier competitors, an Alcatel-Lucent executive told attendees at the Rural Cellular Association conference today.

Regional providers often lack the spectrum and financial resources to roll out a whole new LTE network while continuing to operate their legacy services, Sandy Motley, Alcatel-Lucent's vice president of sales for U.S. wireless accounts, said during a keynote address this morning.

Getting them to LTE will require flexible solutions that make the most of available airwaves by refarming spectrum. And because the LTE footprint will be initially limited in scope, devices must be able to seamlessly interoperate with 3G.

By comparison, top-tier operators are able to roll out LTE across broader areas and support multiple legacy technologies during their next-gen deployments.

"Many of the competitive carriers are moving down a different path to 4G than larger operators," Motley said, citing the limited spectrum holdings of operators in rural areas of the country.

Motley laid out a scenario where operators would re-use some of their 3G spectrum for LTE in some areas, while continuing to offer legacy services in other markets. Such a buildout would require specialized equipment and devices.

The vendor community is responding to these unique challenges with technology that uses spectrum more efficiently through the use of small cells and Wi-Fi offload, Motley said, citing Alcatel-Lucent's LightRadio product.

New business models like spectrum and network sharing could also help operators find viable ways to market, she said. Collaborative arrangements were a common theme of the event's morning speeches.

"With the right partnering with the right innovations, technology and legislation, we can move into the very best of times ahead with LTE," Motley said.

The FCC estimates that about 18 million people in rural areas of the country do not have access to high-speed broadband Internet. Wireless services are often a more cost-effective solution for rural markets than fixed broadband.

The FCC’s recent changes to the Universal Service Fund were criticized by some in the wireless industry who said the agency underfunded mobile providers. The $4.5 billion fund provides just $300 million in annual subsidies to wireless operators, but will eventually increase to $500 million a year.

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