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October 07, 2011

Sprint Makes Big LTE Move

By Gary Kim
Contributing Editor

Sprint executives say the firm will launch Long Term Evolution services on the Sprint network, using the 1900 MHz spectrum. Sprint also says it no longer will sell WiMAX (News - Alert) devices after 2012. LTE in CDMA spectrum

That would have to lead Clearwire executives to believe Sprint’s status as Clearwire’s largest wholesale customer is going to change.

Those moves are just the latest examples of the unsettled state of the U.S. mobile industry. AT&T still hasn’t gotten regulatory clearance to buy T-Mobile (News - Alert) USA. That obliviously means T-Mobile USA isn’t sure now whether it will still be an independent entity or not.

Verizon Wireless will not know whether regulators might be willing to approve further acquisitions, either, until the AT&T case is decided, and any potential lawsuits are settled.

LightSquared (News - Alert) is facing serious opposition from the GPS community about its plan to build a terrestrial LTE network.

Though a number of firms have signed on to use the wholesale LightSquared network, nothing can happen until LightSquared finds out whether it actually can launch.

Also, Dish Network has spectrum it wants to re-purpose for a terrestrial LTE (News - Alert) network of some sort as well.

All of that represents quite a significant amount of uncertainty in the U.S. wireless market.

 Sprint’s decision to move ahead quickly with the launch of LTE services in spectrum it now uses for 3G services also might be instructive.  The new move, though enabled by Sprint’s new network, which features the ability to support multiple air interfaces and frequencies from a single set of radios, nevertheless means a complete upgrade to LTE across the entire Sprint footprint, cannibalizing the existing CDMA spectrum.

In other words, in about two years, Sprint will run an LTE network that also supports CDMA and WiMAX protocols. That would be quite a significant change for a company that today only runs CDMA on the 1900 MHz spectrum, as well as an iDEN network on spectrum in the 800-MHz range. But iDEN is going to be shut down, meaning that in two years Sprint will run its own national networks using only CDMA for 3G and LTE for 4G.

Some had thought Sprint would use the 800-MHz spectrum freed up by the shutdown of the iDEN network, or perhaps spectrum made available by Clearwire. It appears Sprint simply has decided it cannot wait, and is going to start pulling 3G spectrum off line as it adds LTE services in the same frequencies.

Sprint executives expect that by the end of 2013, 275 million potential users (PoPs) will be covered by the LTE network, including 100 percent of the area where Sprint's 4G WiMAX services now exist.

The move is highly significant, as it means Sprint is going to move fairly quickly to upgrade CDMA users to LTE.

Sprint Nextel (News - Alert) Corp. also says it will stop selling phones and other devices compatible with Clearwire Corp.'s network at the end of 2012, as it switches customers to its own Long Term Evolution network. The irony is that Sprint owns a majority of Clearwire. No more Clearwire devices after 2012

But Clearwire also has to figure out whether it can survive as an independent entity, while LightSquared has to settle the issue of whether it can launch at all. In addition to Dish Network, there is the unsettled issue of how U.S. cable operators want to participate in the LTE market.

Gary Kim is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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