Sprint's 4G Technological Evolution - The UpStream

Sprint's 4G Technological Evolution

posted Saturday Oct 8, 2011 by Scott Ertz

Sprint's 4G Technological Evolution

Sprint this week hosted their Network Vision Strategy Update and they made announcements about where their network is headed. While the announcements were major, none were really surprising. The biggest thing to come out of the conference was that Sprint will be ending their partnership with Clearwire, the owners and operators of Clear 4G mobile broadband which also powers Sprint's 4G WiMax network, in favor of a transition to Long Term Evolution, or LTE.

LTE is the technology that powers Verizon's 4G network and AT&T's upcoming 4G network and would be a major shift for Sprint. Up until now, Sprint was committed to remaining a fully CDMA network and, therefore, partnered with Clearwire to help build and deploy a WiMax (4G CDMA) network. The positive of all CDMA networks is that every time speed is increased, voice capacity is increased. GSM follows the other way, the faster the speed, the less call capacity. The benefit of GSM is that it is the world's most prominent technology, meaning that phones can travel worldwide.

How does Sprint plan to carry out the transition, and what does Clearwire think about the news? Hit the break to find out.

Sprint has found a new partner: LightSquared, which owns spectrum in the 1600MHz range and has been planning a nationwide LTE network. Like Clearwire, with the financial backing of Sprint, LightSquared will now have the ability to accomplish this goal and Sprint will have another 4G wireless network that they don't really own.

It is an interesting business move, pairing with another company to jointly build a network. It certainly helps to build the network faster (AT&T believes it needs T-Mobile to accomplish it). The problem arises when one of the partners decides to change directions, as it has here.

Clearwire, Sprint's now former partner, has weighed in on the announcement.

Sprint remains dependent on Clearwire for 4G and nothing about today's announcement changes that. Even with their re-allocation of existing spectrum, it's obvious that their spectrum resources are insufficient to meet the long term demands of mobile data, but this is not unique to Sprint.

I don't blame Clearwire for being upset about this decision, but there is the issue of the existing WiMax devices to think about. Sprint claims to be committed to WiMax, and will continue to sell WiMax devices through 2012. The future past that, however, looks bleak. As for LTE, however, Sprint has set to work on 22,000 cell sites, which is about half of the network. This will certainly be a rapid deployment (the same way they handled the WiMax deployment).

Whether this will be a good decision or not, it is a strong, confident decision they have made. It will be interesting to see how this ends up. I look forward to a Sprint-branded LTE network.

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