When is your Nextel service going kaput? There’s a map for that

It’s no secret that Sprint(s s) plans to shut down its iDEN network in 2013, leaving millions of Nextel and Boost Mobile customers to find new phones and service providers, but until recently the details of how it would sunset its aging push-to-talk systems were a secret. Over the weekend, blog Sprint 4G Rollout spotted a new Nextel landing page on the Sprint website that doesn’t just identify the cities where its shutting off iDEN, but the individual cell sites. If you’re a Nextel or a Boost customer with hopes of sticking with the service for the next year, the site is worth checking out.

Sprint's iDEN network in New Orleans. The dark towers are slated for decommissioning

According to 4G Rollout, New Orleans is the first market on the list with its initial cell sites scheduled to go offline in February shortly after Mardi Gras. Sprint is going to gradually phasing out iDEN so New Orleans Boost and Nextel customers won’t emerge from Fat Tuesday hangovers with no service. But Sprint will pack up its base stations at multiple towers, while expanding nearby cells to fill the gaps.
The iDEN network is actually over-built, designed before the Sprint’s purchase of Nextel and the ensuing flight of millions of customers from its data-impaired networks. So there’s plenty of capacity left in Nextel’s urban networks to cope with a topological rescaling. However, any time you do this kind of network tinkering there will always be coverage holes. Some Nextel and Boost customers can expect their service to suffer, especially as Sprint gets into 2013 and starts shutting down sites en masse.
Outside of New Orleans, there’s not too much useful information since Sprint doesn’t appear to have identified any other specific cell sites scheduled for decommissioning. But you can click on individual sites in your city or town to see when Sprint plans to start its evaluation. For instance, in my city Chicago, all of the sites will likely be under review in June.
Sprint plans to use iDEN’s 800 MHz spectrum for supplemental capacity on its LTE network, which will launch mid-year. But the way Sprint is winnowing down iDEN that spectrum won’t be available until the full network goes dark. Sprint may be shutting down sites, but it’s still using the spectrum. It’s just covering more ground with fewer towers.