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U.S. Cellular to launch LTE network by 2012

At a conference this week, U.S. Cellular's CFO said the carrier would begin LTE testing next year with full deployment following in 2012.

U.S. Cellular offered additional details on its next-generation LTE network yesterday when a company executive said it would begin testing early next year. According to Steven Campbell, CFO and executive vice president, the regional carrier will select its first trial market in late 2011 with full commercial deployment following in 2012. Campbell made the remarks while speaking at the Wells Fargo Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in New York.

U.S. Cellular has yet to select an LTE equipment vendor, but Fierce Wireless reported that the carrier is open to securing deals with companies like Clearwire and Ligtsquad, particularly if they can provide additional spectrum. Campbell did not offer additional details and said only that the carrier was not feeling "a sense of crisis or urgency."

If the 2012 date holds, however, U.S. Cellular will be far behind its rivals in rolling out a next generation network (though carriers bill them as such, LTE and the competing WiMax standard aren't officially 4G technologies). Sprint has steadily expanded its WiMax network since it debuted in Baltimore in 2008 and Verizon Wireless has promised to launch 38 LTE cities by the end of the year. Also, regional carrier MetroPCS now operates LTE service in Detroit, Dallas, and Las Vegas.

As the the nation's sixth largest provider after the "big four" (Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T) and MetroPCS, U.S. Cellular serves 6.1 million customers in 26 states scattered around the center of the country, New England, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southeast.