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Verizon eyes rural carrier deals to help expand LTE

* Verizon looking to rural partners to help build LTE

* Says rural operators could use Verizon spectrum

NEW YORK, May 12 (Reuters) - Verizon Wireless wants to partner rural U.S. operators in order to expand a high-speed wireless network it is building, faster than it could on its own, Chief Technology Officer Tony Melone said on Wednesday.

Melone was responding to a question about how much the biggest US wireless operator would go into rural markets with the network based on a new high-speed technology known as Long Term Evolution (LTE). Verizon plans to launch LTE services in up to 30 markets with a total population of about 100 million by year-end.

“Rural carriers can use our spectrum,” Melone said after his presentation at a Jefferies investor conference in New York. “We absolutely believe (in) partnering with rural carriers and getting LTE out there quicker than we would have.”

The country’s top telecom regulator Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said the partnership plan was “very encouraging” and that he looked forward to learning more about it.

Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications VZ.N and Vodafone Group Plc VOD.L, aims to offer the first fourth generation (4G) LTE phones by the middle of 2011, but Melone said that phone makers are working so hard to deliver high-speed phones they could arrive a few months earlier.

Melone's comments came ahead of an announcement by No. 3 rival Sprint Nextel S.N that it would start selling the country's first 4G phone on June 4. Sprint uses WiMax, a rival technology to LTE [ID:N12183965]. (Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Valerie Lee)

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