Sprint details first LTE launch cities, expansion plans

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Sprint will launch LTE in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and six other smaller markets by mid-2012 2011, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said on Thursday while speaking at the Citi Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications conference. Hesse also went into a little more detail about how Sprint planned to grow its initial low-bandwidth LTE network into a big fat network the size of Verizon’s.

Sprint will start out with a 5 MHz-by-5 MHz carrier in the PCS band, which will give it half the capacity of Verizon’s networks and most of AT&T’s networks (AT&T runs 5×5 MHz networks in some cities like Chicago). But Hesse said Sprint plans to re-farm spectrum in the 800 MHz band for LTE once it begins shutting down its outdated Nextel iDEN systems in 2013. That will double the overall capacity available, plus with new LTE-Advanced technologies, Sprint can bond those carriers together creating a single high-bandwidth channel.

That’s pretty much the migration path we expected, but it doesn’t leave much wiggle room for Sprint. By the time it turns on that second LTE carrier, Verizon and AT&T will likely be expanding LTE into other frequencies, leaving Sprint at an overall bandwidth disadvantage. That’s where Clearwire comes in. It has spectrum in spades, particularly in the large markets. If Clearwire can get its LTE network built, it will be able to provide Sprint with gobs of bandwidth where it needs it most, the major metro markets.

LightSquared was also supposed to provide back-up capacity for Sprint, but its chances of ever launching its wholesale LTE network look increasingly slim. Sprint has contracted to run LightSquared’s service on its new Network Vision infrastructure, but Hesse said Thursday that it has put all integration work on hold and won’t resume it unless LightSquared gets the regulatory go-ahead later this month.

For more on Sprint’s plans this year, be sure to check out Hesse’s New Year’s Resolution in our 12 for 2012 feature.

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