Last Friday, Sprint announced that it will build out a nationwide LTE network at a cost of $4 to $5 billion, to be launched by the end of 2013. According to their press release
, this network roll out is expected to extend Sprint’s LTE coverage to 250 million people. The operator will reuse its existing 800MHz and 1900 MHz spectrum for deploying the LTE network. The announcement unofficially hints at Sprints intentions of leaving WiMAX as they further announced that it will continue to partner Clearwire’s network only until the end of 2012. And this essentially means that WiMAX’s survival in the North American market is looking slimmer.
As for spectrum availability for its LTE launch, even though Sprint currently has the 800 and 1900 MHz spectrum, it is still unclear how they would manage to procure the additional spectrum which will be required in the future. However, it has been reported
that Sprint may use the 1600MHz spectrum from LightSquared subject to FCC approval, once the GPS interference issues have been resolved.
Should Sprint drop WiMAX, as seems likely, the move would mark the end of WiMAX in the US market. The other operators in the US have already chosen LTE, with Verizon having launched LTE in December 2010 and AT&T recently launching commercial services in 5 cities. (AT&T also confirmed to Juniper that assuming its planned acquisition of T-Mobile goes through, it would use T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network to fall back wherever and whenever LTE was not available.) So four out of the four major US network operators have now chosen LTE and reflecting on the global market, it seems LTE is winning the race.
Better late than never, Sprint’s aggressive move to LTE comes at precisely the right moment for them. Sprint has become the third US operator to sell iPhones on their network (with the iPhone4 and 4S): while this model is not equipped with LTE capabilities, it seems highly improbable that its successor will not have them. Thus, if Sprint failed to offer LTE, it would conceivably be at a disadvantage with consumers who would be unable to access data at speeds that the other networks could offer on a flagship device.