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Mobile

​Sprint extends 4G coverage through additional roaming deals

Sprint adds 15 carriers to its roster of partners to expand its 4G LTE network into more markets, including rural areas, to better compete with AT&T and Verizon.

Sprint is expanding its 4G LTE footprint through roaming partnerships it has signed with several rural and regional wireless operators.

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On Friday, it announced that it has struck deals with 15 new rural wireless carrier partners, which will help it cover an additional 4 million potential customers with its 4G LTE network. Sprint announced initial deals with 12 rural carriers in June. That deal extended the 4G LTE network to 34 million potential customers in 23 states.

With this latest agreement, Sprint now has deals with 27 carriers in total and will offer 4G LTE access to 38 million people in 27 states.

In March, Sprint said it would take part in the Competitive Carrier Association's Data Access Hub, which provides an easy way for wireless operators to participate in reciprocal roaming agreements, and it announced a deal with the NetAmerica Alliance to work closely with rural carriers to develop an ecosystem of handsets and also offer unused wireless spectrum for further LTE deployment.

These two programs were designed to facilitate a way for Sprint to work more closely with rural operators to extend Sprint's footprint into markets where it doesn't have coverage and to help build a bigger ecosystem of devices all using the same wireless spectrum and technology.

One of Sprint's key problems in competing with AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which together control more than 70 percent of the wireless market in the US, is that its network primarily covers large urban centers and some suburbs. But the company has virtually no coverage in the most rural parts of the country. This puts Sprint at a major competitive disadvantage compared with AT&T and Verizon, which do cover rural markets.

Sprint executives acknowledge that Sprint customers expect to have 4G LTE wherever they travel. The roaming deals that Sprint is striking are helping the company build out its network via partnerships instead of investing in building its network in these underserved markets on its own. At the same time it also gives rural operators more incentive to build their own 4G LTE networks since the relationship will also enable those customers to roam onto Sprint's 4G LTE service in all the major markets it serves.