Sprint Nextel will confirm its network-sharing agreement with LightSquared in conjunction with its earnings announcement on July 28, reports C/Net.
The agreement, in which Sprint’s network will be used as the infrastructure backbone to LightSquared’s upcoming 4G Long-Term Evolution network, will shed some light on where Sprint wants to head with its own 4G ambitions.
Last month Bloomberg reported Sprint had reached a 15-year network-sharing deal with LightSquared worth around $15 billion. Bloomberg cited a letter written by Philip Falcone to Harbinger Capital Partners investors that said Sprint and LightSquared will jointly build LightSquared’s nationwide network, and Sprint will be a wholesale user of LightSquared’s LTE network. However, neither Sprint nor LightSquared confirmed the reports, and Lightsquared’s plan using the 1.6 GHz frequencies is stalled due to GPS interference issues.
Perhaps that will mean the July 28th announcement will be more of a strategic plan for Sprint’s own LTE network — on the 2.6 GHz spectrum.
Sprint and Clearwire bet early on WiMax, which paid off with a strong turnaround in customer growth for Sprint, notes C/Net. But Clearwire’s network rollout has stalled due to financing issues, and despite a head start, only has 71 markets, covering some 130 million people. Last week, Clearwire, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint announced an expansion in the greater New York City metro area. The regional CLEAR, Time Warner Cable Mobile Internet and Sprint 4G service area have added coverage for an additional 91,363 people. According to Sprint, now some 12 million people in the New York City area will have access to Clearwire’s WiMAX network.
With the wireless industry increasingly moving to LTE as a unified standard, Sprint has been looking in that direction as well for more direct roaming. Sprint’s Network Vision plan allows it to use multiple wireless technologies at once. The company is spending $4 billion to $5 billion over the next three to five years on the upgrade, and is expected to save between $10 billion and $11 billion over a seven-year period. The work is slated to begin in the second half of the year.
Would Sprint go with TD-LTE? It seems unlikely. But they could announce a TD-LTE strategy for their 2.6 GHz spectrum.
CDMA-based Sprint could announce a vendor mix and approach to CDMA/LTE handoff, with vendor support from Samsung, LGEricsson and Nokia Siemens Networks, like overseas carriers. Meanwhile, any Sprint iPhone would need to have dual CDMA/WiMAX radios, like their other 4G smartphones that use Sequans chips. Sequans dual-mode chips can transition from WiMAX to LTE. Broadcom acquired Beceem which develops dual-band, LTE and WiMAX chips. Qualcomm’s next-generation Snapdragon supports LTE and both GSM and CDMA networks.
Sprint’s potential strategy shift comes as its competitors all step up their game. Verizon Wireless will have surpassed 100 markets with its 4G LTE by next week. AT&T and T-Mobile have been rapidly expanding their HSPA+ wireless networks, which they argue is faster than WiMax in some places. In addition, AT&T plans to launch its LTE network in five markets this summer.
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