ANCHORAGE — Another telecommunications provider has entered the Alaska market.
Verizon officially turned on its signal in Anchorage, Fairbanks, North Pole, Juneau and much of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough June 7.
Demian Voiles, vice president for Verizon Wireless Alaska, said launching the new network was very exciting for the company.
“A lot of work went into it,” he said.
The telecom spent about $100 million and two years on the network so far, with more planned, he said.
The money went toward purchasing wireless spectrum, building a switch center in Midtown Anchorage and building and connecting cell towers across the state.
The major telecom provider now has 4G LTE, or long-term evolution, service in all 50 states.
In Alaska, Verizon’s network is data-only for now. That means customers still roam on the Alaska Communications network for voice service.
“That will not change for right now,” Voiles said.
By the end of 2014, the company plans to provide high definition voice-over LTE service. That will launch statewide in all of Verizon’s markets once it’s ready.
Where the provider doesn’t offer 4G LTE service, customers “fall back” to other carriers’ 3G networks. Although Alaska Communications, GCI and AT&T offer 4G LTE service, theirs is on a different spectrum, so Verizon customers can’t roam on that network.
This is actually the first time Verizon has built a new 4G LTE network entirely from scratch, Voiles said. LTE networks use fiber optic cables to deliver data speeds far faster than 3G or 4G networks.
Usually, Verizon is tasked with upgrading its networks to provide the newest technology, but in Alaska, the network was designed to optimize 4G LTE coverage from the start. That was a neat opportunity — and Voiles noted that it was fun to see Alaska be the first place to get new, optimized technology.
Verizon purchased its wireless spectrum in 2010 with the purpose of building an LTE network in Alaska, Voiles said.
The network is intended to serve existing Verizon customers, providing a comparable experience in Alaska as they receive Outside, and also to attract new ones. It will “provide additional competition for Alaskans,” he said.
Verizon already has some Alaska customers. Although it has not previously sold contracts and devices in-state, the company has thousands of customers who signed up elsewhere.
In July, the company will start selling devices in the state. Certain retailers including Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Target and Best Buy will sell 4G LTE-capable devices, including tablets, that work on the Verizon network.
The company is also opening sales channels for Alaskan businesses, government agencies and non-profits.
Standalone retail stores are planned for 2014.
The launch meets the Federal Communication Commission’s timeline that was part of regulatory approval when the company purchased its spectrum.
The requirement was to reach 40 percent of the state by the end of June 2013.
“We’ve done that,” Voiles said.
The FCC also requires a certain increase in the future, which Verizon is already working toward.
“We’re always improving the network and expanding it,” Voiles said.
Verizon’s Anchorage and Mat-Su coverage includes Eagle River, Chugiak, Big Lake, Wasilla and Palmer.
Other parts of the state are expected to receive coverage in the coming months.
Verizon is partnering with Matanuska Telephone Association to expand the Mat-Su service, Copper Valley WHO to expand into Cordova, Valdez and the Prince William Sound, and Ketchikan Public Utilities to expand to that city.
Those companies will own and operate their own networks, but sell products and services using Verizon’s spectrum.
Verizon’s Alaska 4G LTE network is built on the same spectrum as its lower 48 network, and partners will also meet the same standard, Voiles said.
As for Alaska’s more rural locations, Verizon doesn’t have any short-term plans to build out its 4G LTE connection to those communities.
Voiles said the company also hasn’t solidified any plans to expand to the North Slope, but is evaluating it for expansion.
“We’re doing business case evaluations all over the state,” Voiles said.
Any effort to expand will be paired with local discussions to ensure the company is prepared to build in a new location. Local knowledge, especially from local vendors and contractors, has been invaluable, Voiles said.
For the North Slope, there are challenges to building, but no specific technology limitations. Verizon has a pretty good idea of what would be needed, he said.