Verizon’s 4G network is about to get a lot more rural

Verizon is building its new LTE network is some pretty small cities as its network expansion has long moved past the big metro markets, but it’s preparing to scale down even smaller with the help of rural carriers.

Verizon in a blog post on Tuesday revealed that six operators would have LTE networks online using its airwaves by the end of 2012, giving it 4G access in vast swathes of the country where Big Red doesn’t plan on extending its network. Two of those networks have already launched, Cellcom in Wisconsin and Pioneer Cellular in Oklahoma. The remaining four Verizon didn’t name.

Verizon’s LTE in Rural America program has 17 participants, and in total they’ve leased enough 700 MHz spectrum from Verizon to cover 2.7 million people in rural communities covering 144,000 square miles. A Verizon spokesperson said the carrier is still courting more partners.

Each operator partner will get considerable benefits from tying up with the country’s largest carrier:

  • They get access to 4G spectrum, which many of these operators failed to win or couldn’t afford to bid on at auction.
  • They can get their networks up much faster because they only need to build LTE radio infrastructure; Verizon is letting them tap into its core and service delivery networks.
  • They get reciprocal roaming agreements – not only to Verizon’s customers get to roam into their networks, their subscribers can wander through Verizon’s vast metro LTE footprint covering 235 million people.
  • They get access to devices. By virtue of using Verizon’s spectrum, these rural carriers will be compatible with any 4G device designed for Verizon’s network. The most obvious example of this is Cellcom, which will land the new iPhone 5 a week after it goes on sale at the big operators.

Cellcom’s LTE coverage thanks to its roaming agreement with Verizon

Conversely rural operators who decided to invest in their own spectrum are getting the cold shoulder from handset makers who are making devices primarily for the big carriers.

Verizon’s plans for rural America don’t stop at roaming. Big Red also plans to use LTE as a broadband access technology in an areas where it can’t – or chooses not to – offer DSL. Verizon has launched its HomeFusion residential LTE service in a few markets, but there are signs its getting ready to ramp up the service.. ZyXel on Monday unveiled a new LTE broadband router, the LTE5122, which supports Verizon’s unique flavor of 700 MHz. If ZyXel plans actually sell this device, its only customer options are Verizon and its rural carrier partners.