Verizon, Bluegrass Cellular bringing LTE to rural Kentucky

WiMAX isn't the only wireless technology being used to hook up rural America with broadband Internet service.

Verizon is partnering with several rural carriers to build out 4G LTE networks that will give customers in rural areas access to high-speed mobile broadband. One such carrier is Bluegrass Cellular, a Kentucky-based wireless carrier that announced this week that it's joining Verizon's LTE in Rural America program. The goal of the program is to extend the availability of LTE technology to areas where Verizon does not currently offer service.

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Barry Nothstine, the vice president of sales and marketing for Bluegrass Cellular, says that his company first became interested in joining the program when Verizon announced it last spring. Under the agreement signed by the two companies, Bluegrass Cellular will lease Verizon spectrum on the 700MHz band that will be the basis for Bluegrass' own LTE network. The network will be available to both Bluegrass Cellular customers and Verizon customers passing through Kentucky.

"We saw when they announced their program that they had some white spots on their 'Big Red' coverage map," Nothstine says, referring to the red-and-white map Verizon often uses to tout its coverage in advertisements. "And there was a big white space in Kentucky where Bluegrass Cellular is."

Bluegrass Cellular offers mobile voice and 3G data services to 38 counties in Kentucky and Nothstine estimates that its coverage area reaches around 900,000 people. The company isn't yet saying how quickly it will have its LTE network up and running as it is still in its preliminary planning stages. However, Nothstine says the company will likely have an official timetable set up sometime next year.

"When 3G first took off, it was necessary for us to build out our network as quickly as we could," he says. "We want to do the same thing for LTE."

Verizon first announced last month that its 4G LTE network will go online in 38 U.S. markets by the end of this year. Verizon COO Lowell McAdam has said that Verizon will continue aggressively rolling out LTE throughout 2011 and beyond, and he projected that the network would reach 200 million people in the United States by the end of 2012 and 285 million people in the by the end of 2013.

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