LightSquared was the darling of CTIA with its exuberant CEO tantalizing everyone at the prospect of a new, wholesale-only wireless network. If LightSquared’s network becomes a reality, it will provide an option for small cable and telco operators to offer wireless services to their subscribers. (For more, click here). Currently, these operators don’t have much in the way of wireless services, and they only can point their customers to the nearest wireless-carrier kiosk.
However, there’s another alternative in the works that could help these smaller operators offer a quadruple play.
Dallas-based NetAmerica Alliance is bringing together license holders in the 700 MHz (Advanced Wireless Services [AWS]) spectrum to participate in the buildout of a 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network. Chairman and CEO Roger Hutton explains that 225 entities have acquired licenses in this spectrum and that the combined coverage area of those 225 license holders includes 282 million people and almost the entire U.S. geography.
"Each individual license holder really lacks the critical mass that it takes to be successful in the wireless business in today’s market,” says Hutton. "Size and scale is really important against a duopoly (alluding to Verizon Wireless and AT&T)."
NetAmerica’s business plan is to partner with as many of those 225 license holders as possible to build a national network. The company, which began contacting 700 MHz spectrum holders in January, has commitments from four and actively is negotiating with 100, Hutton notes.
For those license holders that want to move forward, NetAmerica develops a radio frequency (RF) design for their footprints and prepares a seven-year business plan, including NetAmerica fees and profit projections.
"They can then choose to execute a charter and begin the buildout," explains Hutton. "The license holders in our plan become participants and operators in their geography. They sell the retail services to their customers."
The licensees have the responsibility to build the LTE wireless network in their areas. They either can acquire the rights to use existing cell towers or they can build them where necessary. "We’re finding they have to build 15 or 20 percent of the towers," says Hutton.
They also are tasked with installing the gateways that act as the switching platforms for LTE.
For its part, NetAmerica will supply the LTE core and will be connecting all the individual local networks to that core. According to Hutton, the LTE core is an accumulation of a lot of different pieces of technology that allows 24/7 monitoring of the network for quality and capacity; it also troubleshoots issues with the network and handles OSS/BSS. In addition, NetAmerica is developing the national brand and is creating the national footprint.
In March, NetAmerica selected Ericsson as its technology partner. Ericsson is in the process of building the network for a pilot launch in three Texas markets slated to go commercial at the end of July.
Fortunately for NetAmerica, it doesn’t have to worry about devices. Because LTE has become the 4G wireless network of choice, the big players are driving device development.
The challenge for NetAmerica is getting a critical mass of participation from the license holders to become a true nationwide wireless provider.