U.S. Cellular Plans to Launch 4G LTE in 2012: Report

U.S. Cellular, the nation's sixth-largest network, plans to roll out 4G, its CFO announced. Unlike Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, the carrier is rather relaxed in its timing.

U.S. Cellular, the nation's sixth-largest carrier, is moving ahead with plans to deploy an LTE network in 2012, although at a relaxed pace, according to reports.

At the Wells Fargo Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in New York, U.S. Cellular Executive Vice President and CFO Steven Campbell said the carrier plans to launch one LTE test market late in 2011, before rolling out a large-scale deployment in 2012, Fierce Wireless reported Nov. 11.

"I don't think we're feeling a sense of crisis or urgency," Campbell said, according to the report, which added that Campbell said the carrier is open to working out a deal with network wholesalers such as Clearwire and LightSquared. Sprint and Time Warner Cable, for example, currently offer 4G services using Clearwire's WiMax-based 4G network.

U.S. Cellular currently has 6.1 million subscribers and a network that's-like Verizon's and Sprint's-built on CDMA technology, versus the GSM used by AT&T and T-Mobile, and from which LTE is derived.

The carrier's relaxed pace is hardly indicative of the wider market, in which its competitors are racing as smartphone adoption-and with it the need for increased data speeds-grows. Verizon Wireless plans to roll out its LTE network any time now, with 38 metropolitan areas, as well as 60 commercial airports, on track to be covered by year's end. AT&T plans to roll out its 4G efforts in 2011, and T-Mobile recently jumped ahead of the pack, in deciding to call its speedy HSPA+ network 4G.

On Nov. 3, T-Mobile debuted a national television commercial in which it refers to itself as "America's Largest 4G Network." In a statement that day, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said 4G "is about performance," adding, "Today T-Mobile's HSPA+ network is delivering 4G speeds that match and often beat WiMax and are readily comparable to what early LTE will deliver."

Also jumping ahead of its larger competitors to get to 4G was MetroPCS Communications, which in September announced that it had activated LTE-based 4G services in Las Vegas. The carrier, which as of September had 7.9 million subscribers, says it plans to cover 80 percent of its CDMA coverage area by the first quarter of 2011.

According to Fierce Wireless, Campbell said U.S. Cellular will choose its lead LTE vendor early next year.

MetroPCS, for its part, has chosen Samsung and Ericsson; Verizon primarily uses Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent; and AT&T will likewise use Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson for its radio access network. AT&T is currently beginning the process of upgrading its network to HSPA+, before making the transition to LTE, and during its third-quarter earnings call, CFO Rick Lindner talked up both, saying that when customers transition off of AT&T's 4G network, they'll still have a "very, very good experience on HSPA+ ... versus other carriers, where you will see a significant decrease in speeds when you're out of their 4G footprint area."

However, during Verizon's third-quarter earnings call the following day, Verizon CFO John Killian seemingly dismissed this, stating that Verizon's 4G LTE network will cover "virtually all of the company's current nationwide 3G footprint."