Clearwire signed up with the Rural Cellular Association (RCA) today, citing “many of the same advocacy concerns” as the trade group’s members.
The WiMAX operator is one of a number of larger wireless providers over the past year to join the RCA, which has positioned itself as willing to take on AT&T and Verizon Wireless.
“The many issues facing our business, including competitive balance, the spectrum crisis and the rapidly growing consumer demand for mobile broadband, all require the type of cooperation and solutions that Clearwire is well positioned to provide,” said Don Stroberg, Clearwire’s senior vice president of strategic partnerships and wholesale. “We look forward to working with our fellow members and the RCA leadership on these and other key issues in the months and years ahead.”
The company is also a member of CTIA, where its CEO holds a position on the board of directors.
Clearwire’s membership in the RCA comes as it is looking for additional wholesale customers for its pending TD-LTE service. Cricket and Sprint are the only two providers so far signed up for the network, which will supplement capacity for their own LTE networks in high-traffic “hotzones,” like major metropolitan areas.
Clearwire will “actively seek new opportunities to serve the needs of other 4G providers,” CEO Erik Prusch said when its deal with Cricket was announced in March. The first 5,000 LTE base stations are expected to be up by mid-2013.
Many of the RCA’s members have 700 MHz spectrum for LTE but have held off on deployment because of problems obtaining equipment and smartphones for their band class, which is different than that of AT&T and Verizon.
Sprint joined the RCA last spring, shortly after AT&T announced its merger with T-Mobile USA, a transaction Sprint opposed. RCA became one of the most vocal opponents of the deal, arguing it would harm competition by creating a veritable “duopoly” between AT&T and Verizon Wireless.
An indication of changes in the industry, T-Mobile itself signed up for the RCA in March, saying it shared the group’s goal of “promoting a healthy, competitive wireless industry.” Cricket Communications also added itself to the RCA’s ranks this spring.
RCA advocates on a number of issues that conflict with the interests of AT&T and Verizon, such as interoperability in the 700 MHz band and data roaming. It is also pushing the FCC to impose conditions on Verizon’s AWS purchase but has not asked the Commission to bar the deal completely.
The group recently dropped its push to end handset exclusivity deals after a number of its rural members landed the iPhone, an issue that had been a sore spot for regional providers during AT&T’s exclusive contract with Apple.