Sprint expands rural roaming program, adding 15 new carriers

Fri Sep 5, 2014 1:23pm EDT
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By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sprint Corp said on Friday it was adding 15 new rural and regional wireless providers to its U.S. roaming program, a move bolstering the company's efforts to cheaply expand its footprint as it fights to stay competitive as a national carrier.

The program allows Sprint and its smaller partners to use each other's networks for roaming at a mutually attractive price. A total of 27 carriers, covering 565,000 square miles and a population area of more than 38 million people, have now entered into roaming agreements with Sprint.

The 27 partnerships could save Sprint about $1.9 billion in expenditures on new cell phone towers and other infrastructure that would be necessary to bring 4G coverage to new areas on its own, based on calculations provided by a source familiar with the program estimates.

With those savings, deals with rural carriers could offer Sprint a lifeline to improve its national presence following the collapse of the merger with T-Mobile US Inc.

Like T-Mobile's, Sprint's network has been largely concentrated around metropolitan areas while the coverage by the two biggest U.S. carriers, Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, stretches nationwide.

Growing its footprint is one of Sprint's major challenges as the company struggles to win back millions of customers it lost during its messy network overhaul in recent years. The task is particularly tough in a nearly saturated market and with No. 4 T-Mobile pushing to leapfrog Sprint as the No. 3 U.S. carrier.

In March, Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son struck an agreement with the Competitive Carriers Association, which represents many U.S. rural and regional carriers, providing the framework for a rural roaming program.

In June, Sprint announced the first 12 individual carriers to launch the rural roaming program into reality, including Virginia-based nTelos Wireless and Mississippi-based C Spire Wireless.   Continued...

People talk on their cell phones as passers-by walk past a Sprint store in New York, October 15, 2012. REUTERS/Keith Bedford