Sprint considers further promiscuity
Sprint's technology mix would make even the most open-minded technologist would blush
Published: 14 July, 2010
Sprint has commitment issues - it's official. As it stands, the US' number three mobile operator has already climbed into bed with three different technologies. With its 2004 acquisition of Nextel and its majority ownership of Clearwire, the US carrier offers mobile services over a veritable smorgasbord of wireless standards - iDEN, CDMA/EV-DO and WiMAX. But apparently, this isn't enough. Clearwire executives happily go on record extolling the joys of LTE - the rival 4G technology to WiMAX - and, according to Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse, if Clearwire moves in the LTE direction a marriage with T-Mobile USA makes sense. Such a development would add GSM and WCDMA/HSPA to Sprint's technology mix making the carrier so promiscuous that even the most open-minded technologist would blush.
In an interview with the FT, the Sprint CEO revealed that he sees "logic" in a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile USA, if the two companies were using the same 4G technology. Hesse provided no further details, but perhaps Sprint might also consider buying an analog network to add something exotic.
Jokes aside, there is indeed some "logic" to such a tie-up. As the number three and four US carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile have been struggling over the past few years against the two market leaders - Verizon and AT&T. While Sprint has been haemorrhaging subscribers to its competitors, T-Mobile has only recently switched its 3G network live and is on a race to expand coverage. A limited amount of spectrum is a further challenge for T-Mobile, which has still not announced any firm 4G plans, although it's hard to imagine it would migrate towards anything but LTE. Sprint on the other hand has a healthy supply of spectrum and a Clearwire move to LTE appears to be the industry's worst kept secret.
Sprint-TMo would have the customers, footprint and spectrum to more aggressively compete with Verizon and AT&T, but it would produce a network cocktail consisting of four incompatible wireless families - iDEN, CDMA, GSM and WiMAX - spread over three separate generations - 2G, 3G and 4G. If there's one lesson Sprint has learnt from its Nextel acquisition it is that integrating an entirely different network technology into your business isn't fun.
Back in 2008, T-Mobile's parent, Deutsche Telekom, looked at buying Sprint and merging it with T-Mobile USA, but the German group decided against the move, partly because Sprint was using different 3G wireless technologies. Perhaps 4G commonality now provides the opportunity to rekindle thoughts of a relationship, but T-Mobile is warned not to feel flattered by the interest Sprint is showing - the truth is that it's just looking to add another notch to its technology bedpost.