Money & Business

Small-Scale Mobile Carriers Boost Signal With Collective Clout

By / Mar 28, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Thanks to a new deal with Sprint, the Competitive Carriers Association hopes to give its regional members access to a broader mobile network while boosting access to LTE wireless signals and offering up a potential challenge to Verizon and AT&T.

The way things are going, the Competitive Carriers Association—which changed its name a while back—may want to change its name again, to the Cooperative Carriers Association.

That’s because the mobile alliance, which represents smaller-scale mobile providers often located in rural areas, is spearheading a series of new deals that could help Sprint—as well as members of CCA and of the NetAmerica Alliance—expand the reach of high-speed wireless access nationwide. And there’s a good chance they’ll get T-Mobile on board, too, when all is said and done. More details:

This is an entirely new way of doing business in wireless.

A question of market reach: With just two companies—AT&T and Verizon—representing more than 70 percent of the U.S. mobile market, smaller carriers often find themselves struggling to expand infrastructure due to purely capital-related issues. This poses a problem for midsized carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as smaller rural carriers. While Sprint and T-Mobile have toyed with merging (to much skepticism from regulators), their merger would be unlikely to expand the networks’ infrastructure, as both operate largely in urban areas. Rural carriers, on the other hand, face the opposite problem: They cover areas underserved by the larger carriers, but don’t have reach in cities, particularly on LTE-based 4G networks that larger players have kept at arm’s length.

A network of many parts: That’s where the new plan comes in handy. The Data Access Hub, which CCA announced at its Global Expo on Thursday, is something of a makeshift nationwide network built from many parts—the more than 100 CCA members, along with Sprint’s network and the network represented by the NetAmerica Alliance, an industry group working to build 4G infrastructure in rural regions of the U.S. The network would give partners in the deal roaming access to 4G LTE speeds in a number of areas throughout the country. One of those partners is Softbank-owned Sprint, whose chairman, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, keynoted the CCA conference. “SoftBank and Sprint will make a strong commitment to all of you to getting access to LTE devices and LTE investment,” Son said, according to FierceWireless. T-Mobile also is considering taking part in the deal, and it praised the approach in comments to CNET.

Screenshot 2014-03-27 18.41.25

How this benefits consumers: By working together with both smaller providers and a national provider, the Data Access Hub provides an opportunity for the networks to work in tandem—with Sprint users gaining access to states where the company previously had limited reach, such as Maine, Montana, and Nebraska, and CCA members gaining broader access to states like Texas and Michigan, along with larger cities. As Son noted in his keynote, the network reach was largely complementary. “I think Sprint realizes that there are synergies from working with these smaller providers that they need to take a good long look at,” CCA President Steve Berry told CNET. “This is an entirely new way of doing business in wireless.” Berry noted that the system also had the side effect of making networks owned by smaller regional carriers operate more effectively with one another.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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