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Sprint 4G LTE service is expected to be available in more than 100 new cities by the end of the year, including Chicago, Boston, New York and Los Angeles, says the 3rd largest US carrier.

Sprint began rolling out LTE to customers this summer. Currently, Sprint offers the new 4G LTE service in 19 metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and surrounding cities.

Sprint’s Network Vision project will integrate different basestations and antennas on a single tower, and is expected to be largely complete by the end of 2013.

Sprint is utilizing Nextel’s PCS band and 800 MHz frequencies in a two stage rollout.

First, Sprint will utilize their greenfield PCS “G” band which Nextel acquired from the FCC when they agreed to give interfering Nextel 800 MHz frequencies to public service users.

Second, it will swap out Nextel’s push to talk iDEN network on the 800 MHz network for Sprint’s push to talk CDMA system, providing better 3G coverage for Sprint, which previously only used the 1.9 GHz PCS band. Nextel users get higher speed data, although they will need a new EVDO phone. Eventually, Sprint plans to add LTE (with voice) to the 800 MHz band as well.

Sprint Nextel will launch FD-LTE service on Nextel’s PCS spectrum (1.9GHz) which Nextel acquired (but has not yet used) from Nextel’s Consensus Plan swap.

Nextel gave their interfering 800 MHz frequencies to public safety users in exchange for 10 MHz in the PCS band. That spectrum is still not utilized because Nextel first had to move legacy users – tv remote trucks – to another frequency and buy microwave gear for them.

Sprint’s partner, Clearwire, will add their own TD-LTE system beginning mid 2013. Because that system uses the 2.6 GHz band, it would be spottier, so Clearwire expects their TD-LTE system to be used mostly in “hot spots” in the urban core.

EarthLink and Clearwire today announced a new wholesale agreement that will enable EarthLink to fixed and mobile broadband service using Clearwire’s LTE network. It will initially target consumers for in-home use, and is expected to launch in early 2013.

The fact that Sprint is pushing their LTE coverage this week may indicate that the new iPhone 5, expected to be announced Wednesday, could support Sprint’s FD-LTE. China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA (3G) standard would also be the priority for Apple, since the carrier has almost 700 million subscribers, most of whom are still using 2G service.

Whether the iPhone5 will support TD-LTE on 2.6 GHz (for China Mobile and Clearwire) is an interesting question. TD-LTE is still largely a science project. Still, China Mobile and Clearwire expect international roaming using their respective TD-LTE systems, and chips like Qualcomm’s 9615 could support “world phone” FD/TD-LTE services today. But Apple would be getting ahead of the market — TD-LTE isn’t expected to be a factor for a year or more.

Verizon will expand their LTE bandwidth by moving to the AWS band. AT&T hopes to use the 2.3 GHz band. Both of those carriers, however, do not have infrastructure in place to support that expansion. Sprint’s 800 MHz, PCS, and 2.6 GHz infrastructure, by contrast, is built and running. Upgrading to LTE could be finished more quickly.

Three of the four major carriers offer LTE, but it costs $80-$90/month for basic voice and data service.

LTE service is mostly available in urban centers, and not in rural regions.

T-Mobile and Clear promise LTE service beginning in the middle of 2013. Clearly, Verizon will benefit most from an LTE iPhone, since they have the most LTE coverage.

But the popularity of the iPhone 5 will be capped by the number of subscribers willing to pay $100/month for LTE services. The iPhone 5 is probably not about US subscribers. It’s (mostly) about China. That means support for TD-SCDMA and Asian carriers.

TeleGeography says China’s 3G subscriber base more than doubled between Q2 2011 and Q2 2012, growing from 81 million to 176 million, with over one billion wireless subscribers. Even with the the impending launch of 4G services, the number of 3G subscribers in the country will continue to grow rapidly, reaching an estimated 667 million by 2016.

Long Term Evolution is the future because data payloads can be delivered cheaper (and faster). LTE also allows spectrum aggregation, among other things.

According to management consulting firm Chetan Sharma Consulting, mobile data is expected to comprise 95 percent of the global mobile traffic by 2015.

Too bad the FCC wasted all that 700 MHz “beach front property” on symmetrical (paired) auctions. Wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon may be dumb, but they had the billions to buy the spectrum. The FCC went for the money. Maybe the agency will do the same thing when the UHF TV band is auctioned.

In FD-LTE, about half the channel capacity is wasted “listening”. That contributes to $100/month cell phone bills. Single channel Time Division is generally more efficient for data. Clearly, spectrum efficiency is not their prime concern.

Related Dailywireless articles include; AT&T Adds LTE Cities, LTE iPhone: Game Changer?, T-Mobile USA Upgrades to LTE, Sprint Expands LTE Coverage, U.S. Cellular Goes LTE, C-Spire Goes LTE, Sprint LTE: July 15, U.S. LTE Networks Expand Rapidly, Sprint: $1B in Ericsson Gear, Nextel Decommissioning Begins

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