C Spire Wireless said it will light up its LTE network in September, nine months later than it originally planned to launch its network.

The regional operator planned to turn on the service at the end of last year, but Dec. 31 passed without the network going live.  

The company has yet to give an official reason for its missed deadline, but the delay has been linked to the cost associated with the iPhone, which C Spire began selling six weeks before the end of 2011.  

The hugely popular smartphone comes with high subsidies that make it a costly endeavor even for top-tier operators: Sprint is paying Apple a minimum of $15.5 billion over the next four years for the iPhone. 

A company spokesman did not reply to questions about the reason for the delay, or whether it had to do with the iPhone. 

C Spire's LTE service will first become commercially available in its home state of Mississippi, where it has its headquarters.  

The first phase of the project spans 20 markets ranging from the Gulf Coast to the northern portion of the state, and marks a $60 million investment in the network. More than 360 cell sites are being upgraded to support the mobile broadband technology. 

"We'll be the first to make LTE widely available in many parts of Mississippi," CEO Hu Meena said during a call with reporters Thursday. "We're ensuring the communities we serve in our home state remain on the cutting edge of wireless." 

Pricing will be the same for LTE service as for 3G service. Average speeds run from 4-12 Mbps on the downlink and 1-5 Mpbs on the uplink, in line with LTE data rates offered by larger operators. 

Devices for the service were not listed today, but are expected to be announced closer to launch. “We fully expect to have a good availability of devices when we roll out 4G,” Meena said. 

The initial wave will be followed by additional deployments, Meena said, but did not provide specific information about the scope or location of its future LTE coverage.  

C Spire doesn’t yet have a lot of LTE competition in Mississippi, but that could change as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile USA expand their networks. Currently Verizon is the only top-tier carrier to list cities in Mississippi on its LTE coverage map, with the service deployed in Columbus, Starkville and Tupelo.