Sprint’s Future: No iDEN, LTE (Maybe)

Sprint (s s) is rolling out a $4-5 billion plan to modernize and converge its network in a wide-ranging effort that will mean the end of its iDEN network and a possible embrace of LTE down the road. The Sprint Network Vision blueprint will involve replacing its network hardware with new base stations that can serve multiple bands including Sprint’s 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz spectrum as well as its 4G 2.5 GHz spectrum and could be configured to one day handle LTE. Sprint will begin rolling out the new hardware in 2011 with partners Alcatel-Lucent (s alu), Ericsson (s eric) and Samsung, who will oversee different regions in Sprint’s network overhaul. The plan will take 3-5 years to complete.

Sprint’s Network Vision plan is designed to improve data service and provide better in-building coverage and network flexibility to handle the expansion of 4G. It will also mean significant energy savings, which will reduce Sprint’s carbon footprint and save the company $10-11 billion over a seven-year term. Part of the plan will be the eventual phase out of Sprint’s iDEN network, which was inherited through Sprint’s purchase of Nextel. Sprint said it will launch next-generation, push-to-talk, broadband-centric services in 2011 on its CDMA network, beginning the phase-out of iDEN cell sites starting in 2013. This is in line with what Hesse recently shared with Om and a good sign for Sprint, which has been weighed down by the iDEN network for years.

CEO Dan Hesse said the plan will bring state-of-the art technology to Sprint’s network, ensuring it will be able to evolve with the growth of mobile services. One key component will be the repurposing of Sprint’s 800 MHz spectrum to enhance Sprint’s 1.9 GHz footprint, which will improve in-building coverage for users. This will allow Sprint to improve its coverage density, which should lead to fewer dropped calls.

This is a big chunk of change for Sprint to be dropping, considering it lost $911 million in its most recent quarterly report and a total of $2.5 billion through the first three quarters of this year, but it speaks to the company’s forward vision. It was first to deploy 4G, and it’s now trying to stay ahead of the coming flood of mobile traffic, which we’ve talked about here. Ovum analyst Jan Dawson said the move to the new base stations may allow Sprint to deploy LTE at a later date. Despite Hesse’s comments that WiMAX is Sprint’s 4G strategy, this would give Sprint the flexibility to migrate if necessary.

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