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Sprint's Bid to Take On 4G 'Duopolists'

Dan Jones
LR Mobile News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor
3/29/2012
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Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s network guru laid out more details on how the third-ranked U.S. wireless carrier will take on its larger rivals with 4G upgrades through 2014 at the Rural Cellular Association in Orlando Thursday morning.

Sprint has so far said that it will have six 4G markets up by mid-year, far less than either AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) or Verizon Wireless . "The duopolists are out there deploying their LTE networks, and we're working really hard to compete with them," Bob Azzi, Sprint's SVP of network, said in his opening keynote, streamed live by RCR Wireless.

Sprint is sticking to its estimate that the upgrades will be in place across the majority of its network by the end of 2013. Azzi said that between 5,000 and 6,000 employees from Sprint and its network providers -- Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Samsung Corp. -- are currently out in the field working on the "Network Vision" deployment.

The upgrade brings CDMA, LTE and WiMax and push-to-talk walkie-talkie-type service under one roof for Sprint, allowing it to shrink both the size of its base stations and the number of cell sites it requires by around 30,000 over time.

Azzi laid out a timeline between 2012 and 2014 for the upgrades: Right now the initial deployment is happening, next up will be capacity upgrades, followed by picocells, voice services over 4G and LTE on Sprint's 800MHz band in 2014.

Sprint's initial LTE deployment is happening on a 5-by-5 channel on its 1900MHz spectrum. Sprint eventually hopes to move customers off its 800MHz iDEN in order to use it for LTE, pending Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval.

"The data portion of that comes in 2014," Azzi commented.

Finally, Sprint will use Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR)'s 2.5GHz spectrum for LTE capacity in high-traffic cities. "We can offload at our most busy sites onto the Clearwire network as we need it," Azzi said.

All of this work will require money: As Sprint CFO Joe Euteneuer made clear this week, the operator is looking for up to $3 billion in vendor financing from three unnamed companies this quarter.

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— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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