Sprint Nextel Inc.'s CEO admitted Thursday morning that the company is behind on its 3G and 4G "Network Vision" schedule, but added that the operator hopes that it will be able to speed up the reuse of 800MHz spectrum in 2013.
"We are behind our original objectives with Network Vision," said CEO Dan Hesse on the operator's fourth-quarter earnings call. He also admitted that Sprint's 58-market 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) footprint trails that of its rivals, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless.
Sprint faced some vendor delays as it got its Network Vision upgrade program going in 2011 and 2012. The operator copped to vendor delays in October and -- like its rivals -- also felt the impact of Superstorm Sandy in the fourth quarter.
Still, the glass is half-full for Steve Elfman, Sprint's president of network operations and wholesale. He is looking forward to starting to deploy LTE on 800MHz in the fourth quarter of 2013, earlier than expected, as Sprint moves Nextel customers off the bandwidth and refarms the spectrum. 800MHz generally offers better performance, especially indoors, compared to the 1900MHz on which Sprint is currently deploying LTE.
Elfman now expects to cover 200 million potential customers with LTE by the end of 2013 if all goes well. "We now expect to cover 200 million PoPs in 2013, dependent on backbone capability, which could push it to very early 2014," Elfman said on the call.
The network guy says that Sprint now has 450 towns and cities in the Network Vision upgrade under construction. He adds that 174 4G LTE markets are now "expected to launch in the months to come."
Elfman says that LTE average downloads currently clock in at 6Mbit/s to 8Mbit/s, with 2Mbit/s to 3 Mbit/s on the uplink. "We expect this performance to improve as we bring full-site clusters online," he noted.
Elfman also says that Sprint is ready for Clearwire Corp. spectrum when that buy-out transaction closes. "In most of the sites we can put up 2.5[GHz] when we need to," he said.
Sprint certainly needs to get customers off Nextel and improve its 3G and 4G coverage as soon as possible to get its numbers up.
Sprint posted a per share loss of $0.44 on a net loss of $1.32 billion, which compares to a diluted net loss of $0.43 per share in the same quarter last year with a $1.3 billion net loss. Revenues rose to $9 billion.
Analysts surveyed by Reuters had expected losses per share of $0.46.
â€” Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile