Samsung’s new Galaxy S 4 is a godsend for Sprint and its dueling LTE networks

Samsung this week unveiled new versions of its Galaxy S 4 and S 4 mini that supports both of the world’s flavors of LTE. The device was heralded as the ideal global roaming phone since it will work on the time-division LTE (TD-LTE) systems going up Asia as well as the frequency division (FD-LTE) gear common in the U.S. and Europe. But there’s one thing Samsung left unmentioned in its announcement: This is the ideal phone for Sprint’s(s s) funkiest of LTE rollouts.
If there were an award for crazy network configurations, Sprint would win it in a landslide. It’s building CDMA and LTE networks all over the electromagnetic spectrum, and now that it has gained control of Clearwire it’s deploying both flavors of LTE side by side.
Sprint LTE logoWhile Sprint has managed to secure plenty of high-profile smartphones for its customers under its current network configuration, landing multi-mode TD/FD-LTE devices was always going to be trickier. Its TD-LTE systems are set to go live this year (and if Sprint launches the network we hope it does, it will pack quite the punch), but so far it’s only managed to get hotspots and dongles that support both LTE variants.
Samsung, however, seems to have solved that problem with these new variants of the S 4 and S 4 mini. Right now, they’re being tested on Australian carrier Optus’s TD-LTE network, according to ZDNet. But they’ll presumably work on the similar networks going up in Japan, India and China, where everyone is using similar spectrum to Sprint’s TD-LTE systems.
I can’t say for sure that these will be the same phones that work on Sprint – in fact, Samsung will probably have to make some tweaks to optimize them for Sprint’s unique set of bands and varying technologies (when I said Sprint’s network was funky, I meant funky). But Samsung should have little trouble building such a variant. It also has plenty of incentive to do so.
Sprint may be only the third-largest carrier in the U.S. but due to the enormous size of this market it still ranks among the world’s biggest operators. It’s still capable of landing specially built devices for its network. Samsung also landed a coveted spot among Sprint’s primary network suppliers – it’s first major LTE win in North America — and wants to keep a key customer happy. Finally, there’s the issue of Huawei.
Before Sprint took over, Clearwire had tapped Huawei (along with Samsung) as one of its 4G vendors. Sprint now likely wants to put distance between itself and the controversial Chinese equipment maker. Clearwire was already “materially reducing” Huawei’s presence in its network before its deal with Sprint closed, according to FierceWireless. Sprint may be looking to cut Huawei out completely, and Samsung will most certainly vie to fill the gap it leaves.
If you want to convince a carrier to spend more of its capital investment on your gear, one way to do it is to give them a very popular smartphone optimized for its networks.