Fairbanks and Juneau will likely be the first communities outside of Southcentral to experience 4G LTE service when Alaska Communications launches the faster network.
The company is taking pre-orders for compatible phones, and has said delivery will occur when the launch happens in early October. ACS spokesperson Heather Cavanaugh said there was not an official date for the launch as of Sept. 21.
When the 4G LTE network launches in parts of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, ACS will also launch High Speed Packet Access Plus, or HSPA+, service in several other communities, including parts of the Mat-Su, much of the Kenai Peninsula, Sitka and Ketchikan.
HSPA+ is the same network run by AT&T and General Communications Inc. HSPA+ is marketed as 4G service while not as fast as 4G LTE, which uses fiber optic transmission to move data.
ACS is in the final stages of preparing to launch 4G LTE, according to Mike Todd, senior vice president for the company's technology services.
"Our network teams are installing sites and making sure service will be reliable when we launch," he said. "We have internal teams working to procure the latest devices that help customers get the most out of their 4G LTE experience."
A compatible phone is required to access the network. When in areas without the 4G LTE coverage, those phones will fallback first to the HSPA+ network, and then to the 3G network ACS currently operates around the state.
Further expansions are planned.
"We will continue to build out our 4G LTE network through the end of the year and will make announcements as we expand our network," Todd said.
AT&T launched 4G LTE coverage in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Sept. 6 and has said it will continue to expand throughout the state as well.
Interop also recently announced a new services agreement with GCI, which it will launch in the fourth quarter of 2012. Enhanced 4G messaging services, including room for increased messaging traffic and the ability to personalize messaging, will be provided using Interop technology. GCI already uses Interop services for some of its operations and according to its announcement it will continue to work with GCI upon its conversion to a 4G LTE network.
GCI and Alaska Communications are in the process of a major deal to combine their wireless infrastructure assets. The Alaska Wireless Network, to be two-thirds owned by GCI and a third by ACS, has a target completion of the regulatory and financial components in time for a mid-2013 launch. The companies will maintain separate retail and marketing operations.
Along with the new phones and new service, ACS announced new plans. The 4G LTE plans, called the "optimal" plans, include at least 5 gigabytes of data so that customers can use the higher speeds the network affords, Todd said. They also include unlimited talking and texting, with prices based on Alaska or national service, and the amount of data a customer purchases.
ACS didn't announce a plan for existing customers to upgrade their phones and plans, but Todd said that they could call or visit a store to find a solution.
By MOLLY DISCHNER
Alaska Journal of Commerce