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Sprint details $5bn network modernization plan

iDEN is out; Ericsson, ALU and Samsung gain contracts


Published: 6 December, 2010

READ MORE: Spectrum | US | Sprint Nextel Corporation | CDMA | iDEN

Sprint has finally announced details of its network modernization and consolidation plan, which was, until recently, expected to be led by Huawei. However, Chinese suppliers were excluded, reportedly under pressure from government authorities, and the key vendors will be Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Samsung. The program will take three to five years and up to $5bn to complete and will see the final demise of the iDEN network Sprint gained as its dubious dowry from the Nextel merger.

The Sprint Network Vision blueprint will center on flexible base stations that can support multiple technologies and bands, including its current 800MHz and 1.9GHz bands, and the 2.5GHz 4G band, used by its joint venture Clearwire. Sprint will begin rolling out the new hardware in 2011 with each of the three suppliers working in different regions.

The contract is a big win for Samsung, which has failed to make much impact on the 3G infrastructure market except in its home country. However, it had promised that its leadership in WiMAX would also put it in a strong position in LTE, and the ability to cross over Sprint's and Clearwire's networks will have helped gained the Korean company a position in the program. Ericsson, which manages Sprint's networks, and ALU, which is an incumbent CDMA supplier, are unsurprising choices. Motorola, which makes the iDEN technology, is an obvious loser, but remains a supplier to Clearwire, as does Huawei.

Sprint said Network Vision was designed to improve data rates and quality; provide better in-building coverage; and allow for flexible migration between technologies and 4G expansion. It will also bring significant energy savings, which will reduce Sprint's carbon footprint and be one element in estimated savings of $10bn to $11bn over a seven-year period. Other factors in that cost reduction will be the iDEN closedown (35% to 40% of the savings), plus efficiencies in backhaul and capex, and a reduction in the number of cell sites to lease and manage.

Although iDEN is doomed at last, phase-out will not start until 2013, by which time Sprint will have launched next generation, broadband versions of the key Nextel application, push-to-talk. Sprint will be able to refarm its 800MHz spectrum to enhance its 1.9GHz footprint, a key element of the strategy to improve rural coverage and in-building penetration.

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