Sprint Hints at Spectrum Plans
WASHINGTON -- Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) plans to acquire additional spectrum in the 2.5GHz band in order to give the company a nationwide footprint, according to company officials attending the Wireless Communications Association International (WCA) conference here this week. But the company remains mysterious on its service plans for the spectrum.
As a condition of approving the recent merger between Sprint and Nextel, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has required the merged company to begin offering services in the 2.5GHz band to at least 15 million Americans by 2009 and to 15 million more by 2011, or risk losing rights to the spectrum.
"I initially had some concerns about Sprint obtaining such a wide swath of spectrum without any clear plan for deployment," said Jonathan Adelstein, commissioner of the FCC, in a keynote speech to WCA attendees. But now he's confident that Sprint will meet its deadline.
"I think Sprint Nextel's investment will help all providers in the 2.5GHz band," Adelstein said.
Sprint says it will beat the deadline, and that the services in the band, whatever they may be, will serve far more than the required 30 million potential customers.
"We could cover that in a few cities, that's true," says Bob Finch, vice president of spectrum development at Sprint Nextel. Instead, the company plans to deploy services in the 2.5GHz band nationwide, he says, which will require the acquisition of more 2.5GHz spectrum, especially in the southeast U.S.
"There are areas of the country where we still don't have strong 2.5GHz," Finch says. "I'm trying to fix that." Historically, Sprint Nextel has engaged in spectrum swaps with wireless broadband provider Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), which owns about 15 percent of 2.5GHz spectrum in the U.S., primarily serving rural customers. Finch says future spectrum swaps are a possibility.
"We certainly will beat the FCC deadline," he says. "We do have an opportunity to get ahead of the competition."
So is the company being coy, or is it really still deciding? "We're deciding," Finch says. "We do expect to make our technology decision this summer and to make an announcement as well."
In a luncheon speech at the WCA conference Wednesday, Finch teased the audience with a list of technology that Sprint Nextel is considering for commercial deployment. "I know there are a lot of vendors in the room that would like to know that answer," he said.
Finch mentioned Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL)'s trial of Flash OFDM wireless broadband technology from Flarion Technologies Inc. , now owned by Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM). The trial in Raleigh, N.C., in the 1.9GHz band, pre-dated the Sprint/Nextel merger. "We were very satisfied with the technology," he told the audience.
He went on to mention trials in the Washington area with IPWireless Inc. , which offers mobile broadband services using UMTS TD-CDMA technology. Sprint has a $14 million investment in IPWireless.
"And obviously we're looking at WiMax as well," Finch said. He didn't mention any specific trials or plans. But he did make a point of noting that Sprint actually already offers some fixed-wireless services in the 2.5GHz band to a few thousand customers, left over from the company's "historical deployments" of MMDS (multipoint multichannel distribution services.) The company halted these efforts in 2001 but continues to serve some customers.
— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, Light Reading