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Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors

Now that Sprint Nextel Corp.'s mergers with Clearwire LLC and Softbank Corp. are complete, the carrier's Network Vision could soon take on a fresh 4G flavor with LTE TDD.

Sprint bought the rest of Clearwire that it didn't already own primarily to get its hands on its valuable spectrum holdings. Those holdings were in 2.6GHz bands used for WiMax now but suitable for deploying Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE TDD). This is a technology -- also known as TD-LTE -- that no other operator in the U.S. uses, but one that is accelerating rapidly across the globe. (See Defining 4G: What the Heck is LTE TDD?)

Sprint hasn't said when it will deploy the next-generation network, but Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar says it could be as soon as the fourth quarter of this year.

If so, this will be positive news for its vendor partners, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson AB and Samsung Corp.. Both Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent have experience with the burgeoning tech through its biggest proponent, China Mobile Ltd., and Samsung was an established Clearwire base station vendor. There's little chance Sprint will look elsewhere to build out LTE TDD.

"I would think with Sprint trying to consolidate everything, it would most likely want to have the same FDD LTE and TDD LTE vendors in the market," Schoolar says. "They'll want to follow the path and keep the same vendors in the same regions."

For Alcatel-Lucent, especially, it may be a game of catch-up for a while. Its LTE TDD footprint pales in comparison to Samsung and Ericsson. Schoolar notes it is difficult to determine whether Alcatel-Lucent is behind on the technology itself or if it just hasn't pursued the market as aggressively given its recent corporate restructuring. For its part, an Alcatel-Lucent spokesman says the vendor has several LTE TDD trials and customers.

Even if Sprint does move to LTE TDD in the fourth quarter, the wait on devices for the network will be a longer -- at least until next year. The Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) says there are already more than 200 LTE TDD devices on the market, but Sprint's network will no doubt precede their entry into the U.S.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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bergea 7/16/2013 | 3:29:01 AM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors Thanks for the clarification on Sprint TD-LTE devices and future smartphones. I believe Sprint and Softbank will reconsider plans to deploy TD-LTE on existing Clearwire base stations. I expect the majority of Sprint's new TD-LTE base stations will be integrated into its Network Vision platform, under an accelerated deployment schedule. Some existing Clearwire sites may survive to add LTE capacity in some metro areas, and Samsung may gain market share as Huawei equipment is replaced in the US. But I do not expect Huawei or ZTE equipment to be replaced in Softbank's TD-LTE network in Japan.
DanJonesLRMobile 7/15/2013 | 9:22:07 PM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors I doubt that SoftBank will change position on Huawei for Sprint.
Sarah Thomas 7/15/2013 | 2:25:27 PM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors That's true, but Softbank is working with Huawei and ZTE on its TDD LTE network. As part of its deal to acquire Sprint and address concerns about foreign ownership, Softbank said it wouldn't use Huawei in Sprint's network. Do you think it'll stick with that and swap out its own suppliers too?
Ray Le Maistre 7/15/2013 | 2:06:14 PM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors Isn't there a good chance that SOftbank will want to review Sprint's supplier strategy? Could shake things up a bit... these carriers are looking for global synergies these days.
Sarah Thomas 7/15/2013 | 1:56:34 PM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors BTW, Sprint announced today that those tri-band devices will be coming out on July 19th: http://newsroom.sprint.com/new...
Sarah Thomas 7/15/2013 | 1:50:21 PM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors I would agree that Samsung is in the best position given its established base station work with Clearwire, although Ericsson also has China Mobile under its belt. Alcatel-Lucent will be the only one really playing catch up.
Sarah Thomas 7/15/2013 | 1:49:10 PM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors Thanks for the update. I should've put smartphones instead of devices, which I think will trail the network. The LTE TDD devices Sprint does have now aren't much use on that network until it gets it deployed...Haven't heard a specific timeline from it yet.
DanJonesLRMobile 7/15/2013 | 12:56:53 PM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors Seems like Samsung is in a much better position.
DollarsnSense 7/15/2013 | 12:34:18 PM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors "Even if Sprint does move to LTE TDD in the fourth quarter, the wait on devices for the network will be a longer -- at least until next year."

This is incorrect, Sarah. Sprint has already revealed the Netgear Zing, the Novatel MiFi 500 LTE, and the Netgear 341U USB modem which all support 2.5GHz TD-LTE. These devices are expected to launch before the end of this month. Sprint has also mentioned that tri-band smartphones with 2.5 GHz TD-LTE support from Samsung and LG should debut before the end of this year.
milan03 7/15/2013 | 11:22:48 AM
re: Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors It's really gonna be interesting to see if ALU will provide valid Rel 10 solutions for CDMA carriers. The latest I've heard is that Verizon is looking at other vendors for LTE-A equipment since ALU has been struggling for a while to meet the demand.

As you already said, it's going to be very interesting to see how are they going to address FDD+TDD situation with Sprint.
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