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Sprint, which owns 51% of WiMAX operator Clear, is weighing whether to migrate to LTE on part of its own CDMA networks, reports Light Reading Mobile.

At the LTE Summit in Amsterdam, Kevin Packingham (left), SVP of product and technology development for Sprint, said the operator was doing a technology evaluation and has sent out an RFP.

Packingham wasn’t dismissing WiMax: “We don’t see WiMax and LTE as being mutually exclusive,” he said.

Light Reading indicated that Sprint’s RFP is for its CDMA networks at 1900 MHz and 800 MHz, though the majority of Sprint’s CDMA networks are in the PCS band. So instead of identifying new spectrum for a 4G network it would look to upgrade or overlay LTE in its existing 2G and 3G bands.

CDMA carriers are only 1.25 MHz wide, so it will have to take several offline before it can aggregate the spectrum for a much broader LTE carrier. With no dominant voice standard for LTE, a voice handset using the LTE data network may take a while to reach the market. Currently Verizon and AT&T plan to use their 700MHz LTE frequencies as a data-only network. Voice will be carried on their traditional cellular network.

AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all are backing LTE, so it makes sense for Sprint to support the standard, too, and provide seamless roaming on the paired cellular spectrum. But until voice is carried on LTE, there doesn’t appear to be an overwhelming need.

Sprint’s data-centric WiMAX network has bandwidth to burn. Clear has previously stated a willingness to provide whatever technology the market wants – even to other carriers. That may serve Sprint well, since the 2.6 GHz band is the spectrum of choice for “4G” providers world-wide — and Sprint/Clear owns 90% of that spectrum in the United States.

Clear is installing Samsung U-RAS Flexible base stations, which can be used as a common platform for 802.16e, 802.16m, as well as both FDD-LTE and TD-LTE deployments, as well as Motorola’s LTE/WiMAX solutions and Huawei basestations that allow TDD-WiMAX, TDD-LTE or FDD-LTE with a simple board swap.

According to Light Reading, Packingham would not specify a timeframe for when Sprint might make a leap to LTE. He suggested, however, that such a decision would be informed by customer reaction to the EVO 4G WiMax smartphone, which will be released on June 4, as well as an understanding of what work needs to be done at standards bodies to make a technology shift possible in its frequency bands.

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