Blog Post

Can Sprint’s network handle the iPhone?

Sprint's Stephen Bye at Mobilize 2011
Sprint's Stephen Bye at Mobilize 2011 avoiding my questions about the iPhone.

Updated: The big story around today’s iPhone launch is the phone, but Sprint’s (s s) $20 billion bet on the iPhone and its plans for growth in a consolidating wireless industry make a compelling backstory for telecom industry watchers. And for those folks, plus anyone who’s currently on the Sprint network hoping for the device, the biggest question is whether Sprint’s network can handle the phone.

After AT&T’s(s t) publicized issues with the device, Sprint has to be hoping its network doesn’t become a secondary story, and analysts believe it will be okay. Although the Wall Street Journal (s nws) reported this morning that the latest iPhone won’t run on Sprint’s current WiMAX or planned LTE network, it will run on its CDMA network, which is the technology Verizon’s (s vz) iPhone (s aapl) currently uses.

However, it’s unclear how long the operator could offer its unlimited plans to iPhone data users. In a conversation on stage at our Mobilize event in September, Sprint’s CTO Stephen Bye said Sprint will have to continue reducing its costs in order to keep offering unlimited plans.

However, just like Verizon, Sprint is in much better shape to handle the iPhone than AT&T was when it launched the handset back in 2007, said Chetan Sharma, a wireless consultant. He added that Sprint has been handling Android (s goog) data on unlimited plans for some time without issue. He pointed out that the bandwidth and signaling loads for Android devices are similar or even greater than the new iPhone’s are expected to be, so he’s confident the network won’t become the story.

Update: Michael W. Thelander, founder and CEO of Signals Research Group, which is a consulting firm that field tests wireless networks, says Sprint has the benefits associated with using CDMA technology (it’s called EVDO for those who love their acronyms), but he’s a bit concerned about Sprint’s spectrum depth. He emailed me the following:

My only caution on Sprint is that they will be using their 1900MHz spectrum, which inherently has poorer RF coverage than 850MHz. In the early days of the iPhone, AT&T ran into problems because it was only using its 1900MHz band for 3G and they had coverage problems. They have since deployed 3G at 850/1900MHz in many markets and the coverage problems are not nearly as great. Likewise, VZW has at least some EV-DO deployed at 850MHz, although from what I know in my testing and conversations with others, is that the bulk of their EV-DO/data traffic is at 1900MHz. Sprint has no choice but to use 1900MHz so they had better hope their coverage is adequate. If they have designed their network for ubiquitous voice coverage then at the cell edge the data performance may be sub-par.

So while it’s disappointing that Sprint doesn’t appear to be offering an iPhone with faster WiMAX or LTE speeds, there are about 6-7 million Verizon iPhone subscribers who seem to be happy. So perhaps Sprint’s commitment signaled by buying 30.5 million handsets makes sense, both for consumers and for Sprint.

10 Responses to “Can Sprint’s network handle the iPhone?”

  1. I have sprint in detroit mi no 4g service here yet 3g speed is so slow metro pcs is faster terrible plus I believe that verizon is the best company I am leaving sprint had nothing but problems I hate sprint this has been the worst 2 years ever

  2. Sprint has never failed me and my family and I have been customers for about 21 years now or more. Sprint has always been the best in our views as when disasters like hurricanes or bad weather, my friends att and verizon cell phones loose signal or rarely have any while my sprint phone has full bars everywhere. I’m not insulting other carriers, but Sprint has always kept its word, except for the 5GB limit on 4G mobile hotspots that I was never able to get as I live in the rural area, but everything else is true, get em Sprint!!!!!

  3. @ Diaz.. your comment couldn’t be further from the truth.. i switched to Sprint from At&t because of the data speed issue. I went to the HTC Evo and the speeds are amazing. I work in a tech group and we tested the best phones from each carrier. Not only is the Sprint 3G the Fastest, the 4G blows everything else out of the water. If / when Sprint gets the iphone, it will be the fastest on the market. Plus, with the new network Sprints building, they will have the best coverage and continue to have the fastest data speeds. After testing everything on all carriers, Sprint is the best carrier on the market.

    • ゲンジンアロ

      I’m a Sprint fan & I admit that the 3G network is suffering, it has been ever since the EVO series came.
      Sprint’s network vision plan will help but they need to deploy EVDO Rev. B upgrades for the long term, to maintain the quality of the network. Their 4G plans are excellent but they can’t afford ignore the deteriorating 3G network.

  4. William Diaz ✔

    Absolutely NOT TRUE. Sprint has had nothing but issues handling Android data. When the EVO 4G launched the 4G network was almost non-existent, and most users relied on 3G. My data speed on a DIFFERENT phone (Samsung Instinct) went from 2.1mbps down to 600kbps, by the time I bought the EVO thinking Id get a speed boost, I found my data AVERAGE 100-300kbps. I reported this many times to Sprint, as did other people I know who use Android phones. Sprint has refused to address the issue, and pretends there isnt one. In fact, Sprint 3G network is in worse shape than AT&T was when they first got the iPhone. Id not be surprised if Sprint kills off Unlimited Data for all users iPhone or Android or otherwise claiming the economic need for their network. Truth of the matter is, Sprint can offer Unlimited Data all they want, and it wont cost them much since their network cant deliver a speed that is reflective of anything.

    • Michael

      @Diaz, I am Sprint customer using their HTC Evo 3D and Motorola Photon 4G and I couldn’t be happier. I rarely get dropped calls and when I do it is usually from people using ATT and occasionally VZ.

      In case you didn’t know, Sprint has twice the 3G coverage of ATT and 14 times that of T Mobile.

    • I would have to degree. I have had Sprint in the Chicagoland area and the 4g is so unstable that it is not worth even activating to date. The rare times I can get a stable 4g signal it is routinely slower that my friends 3g signal on t-mobile.

  5. Angelique

    Sprint, lets do this!!!!! There are people waiting to drop AT&T and Verizon just to get on Sprint with an Iphone and your absolutely right as to why business left due to no Iphone!!!
    Its about time we share some of the wealth and happiness!!! I love you Sprint and Sprint service has always been awesome to me and my family!!! Sprint to the end!!!