Regional carrier Pioneer Cellular has completed data testing of its new LTE network, which will be launching in Oklahoma next year as part of Verizon's LTE in Rural America program. Under the initiative, Big Red partners with carriers in rural areas where it doesn't have a strong network presence itself. Infrastructure and hardware are built out by the regional company, and Verizon shares access to its 700MHz LTE network. Verizon users get to take advantage of the new coverage, and customers of the regional carrier gain access to Verizon's nationwide LTE network in return. Pioneer is one of 13 participants in the program, with nearly 2.6 million people in 10 states serviced by the partner companies. It's seemingly a win-win: companies like Pioneer specialize in rural wireless deployments, places where Verizon traditionally can't be bothered to offer great broadband coverage.
It's also one more way in which the carrier is beating AT&T to the LTE punch, continuing a steamroller rollout with new deals and spectrum acquisitions — while Ma Bell may even be considering repurposing its own 3G network in the wake of the sputtering T-Mobile deal. Pioneer's LTE network will cover 17,000 miles of terrain in Oklahoma. It is currently undergoing further testing, with a launch expected next spring.