Verizon to launch voice coverage this fall


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A year after Verizon Wireless launched data service in Alaska, it is readying its network to add voice coverage and preparing to enter the retail market with its own stores.

The company is on track to launch voice coverage this fall, marking a shift from its current status as a data-only carrier in Alaska to a full-on participant in the telecommunications market here. For the past year, Verizon has provided data service via its 4G LTE, or long-term evolution, network, and relied on other local carriers for voice coverage.

“I think the network has been doing great,” said Verizon’s Public Relations Manager Scott Charlston. “It’s not a full network, and most folks who think of wireless do still think of phone and talking, although trends show there’s an awful lot more activity on the data side.”

The company will also open its own retail stores this fall when it launches voice coverage. Currently, Verizon products that just use data are available through local retailers such as Sam’s Club, Costco and a few others, Charlston said.

“We realize that until we have stores with the Verizon name on them, that we’re not fully immersed, and that time is coming soon, and we’re excited for it,” Charlston said.

The company is now hiring for the Verizon-branded stores that it plans to open in the fall. The two big stores will be in Fairbanks and Anchorage, Charlston said, with future expansions to come. The company held job fairs May 19 and 22 to fill its Anchorage and Fairbanks positions.

“That’s not where we’re going to finish,” Charleston said.

The company also has service in Juneau and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and Charlston said the company’s retail presence will likewise extend beyond Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The company will have a mix of retail outlets: stores it owns, operates and controls on its own, and others where it partners with other retailers.

Verizon’s voice service will be voice-over-LTE, which uses the data connection to provide voice coverage. That’s different than the other Alaska carriers, who use 4G LTE only for data, and have traditional voice coverage.

Verizon offers 4G LTE service in all 50 states, but Alaska is the first place the company has built a 4G LTE network from scratch. Previously, Verizon had to upgrade older networks bit by bit.

So far, customer response on the new network has been positive, Charlston said.

The company has also continued working on its network since the launch last June, adding cell sites in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and the Mat-Su area, Charlston said.

The company also has partnerships with the Matanuska Telephone Association, Copper Valley Telecom and Ketchikan Public Utilities through its LTE in Rural America program.

In Ketchikan, the towers are up to provide LTE service, and customers with existing Verizon or partner devices are able to access the service, but the utility has not yet started selling LTE-capable devices. That will likely come later in 2014, depending on when Verizon launches its voice-over-LTE service, according to the utility.

Copper Valley announced in February that work was planned to expand its 4G LTE coverage to 14 additional sites, including Glennallen, Tazlina, Nelchina, as well as new sites in McCarthy, Valdez and Cordova.

“In 2013, we became the first carrier to offer 4G LTE over a cellular network in our region. We upgraded ten of our wireless sites in Valdez, Prince William Sound, and Cordova and they are performing exceptionally well,” said Copper Valley CEO Dave Dengel in a formal statement. “Our network is meeting or exceeding all performance benchmarks including data speed, reliability, and coverage. We are excited to be able to expand the network this year.”

Copper Valley’s upgrades are expected to be completed by mid-2014, the company has said.

Charlston could not yet provide any details about the work being done jointly, but said there will be more announcements about that work in the future, including possible new partnerships with other rural providers.

Last June, the company said it was evaluating additional partnerships, as well as considering a presence on the North Slope.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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