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Why Sprint is pushing LTE for 100 cities in “coming months”

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Sprint(s s) is continuing its big network push for fast LTE service, announcing on Monday that 100 cities will receive LTE in the “coming months.” That’s not a very precise timetable, but what is definite is that Sprint is quickly trying to catch up to its U.S. rivals who already offer LTE. Sprint’s key differentiator is unlimited mobile broadband service, which can help it keep or attract customers, provided it gets the LTE network up and running sooner rather than later.

In the press announcement of its network plans, Sprint says the following major markets are part of the LTE expansion over the coming months: Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tenn.; Miami; Nashville, Tenn.; New Orleans; New York; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C. A full list of the 100 cities where Sprint is deploying LTE during this phase can be found here. The carrier expects to complete its 4G LTE network build by the end of 2013, essentially covering its current 3G footprint of today with LTE.

What’s the rush? Sprint’s bet on WiMAX back in 2008 cost it both money and time as rivals chose LTE for its speed and GSM compatibility. As a result, Sprint has watched Verizon(s vz)(s vod) roll out 371 LTE market since 2010 while AT&T(s t) is at 60 and growing. Even T-Mobile is on the LTE bandwagon: It has a strategy to refarm spectrum and launch its own LTE 4G service. Add all this up and Sprint’s early mover advantage in U.S. 4G is long gone and so too might customers be who can’t wait for the carrier’s network upgrades.

On a related bet, Sprint decided to spend billions to bring Apple’s iPhone(s aapl) to its device portfolio in 2011. It will take several years to get that money back and even longer if Apple does add LTE support to its next iPhone as the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday. Sure, Sprint may offer unlimited data plans, but if a shiny new iPhone is stuck on an older 3G connection that’s up to 10 times slower than LTE, will consumers pick a Sprint iPhone or one from a Sprint rival?

History suggests faster speeds are trumping unlimited data; at least when it comes to the iPhone.

10 Responses to “Why Sprint is pushing LTE for 100 cities in “coming months””

  1. I mean of course if they are upgrading their 4g service they are going to put fiber cables in all their sites. The only thing I would concern my self with, will it be as fast as Verizon nd att? But I don’t doubt

  2. I’m in Dallas. We’re supposed to have the LTE service. I have the first gen Evo. My gf has a new Samsung G3. I get 4g. She gets squat. What good is unlimited data if it comes to you at a snail’s pace? I left ATT for Sprint. Looks like I’ll be heading to Verizon later this year.

  3. Victor on Sprint

    Wait –no San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Menlo Park, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Cuppertino, San Jose, i.e. Silicon Valley?

    What do those people in Overland Park smoke when they look at a map of the US? Don’t they see the center of mobile technology right around San Francisco? And that’s why they prefer to build their fast network in Athens, GA?

    Must be the same folks who bought Nextel for gazillions…

  4. Why is everyone so fixated on LTE????? The biggest problem right now that carriers should be concerned about is back haul bandwidth, not wireless coding methods. According to one article written in 2009, at that time, over 90% of Clearwire and Sprint WiMAX towers were connected via microwave back haul. Another site claimed each microwave link had a total capacity of 80mbps. Think about that for a second. In several other countries, individual houses are getting 1gbps+ fiber connections, but here, the entire cell site to be shared amongst hundreds or even thousands is wired at 80mbps??? WiMAX 1 has theoretical max download speeds of 37mbps per user. In my testing across the U.S., even when within 100 feet of a Clearwire/Sprint tower, speeds average around 7mbps. What is switching to LTE towers going to do? I could hook up a fancy new Wireless AC router to my 6mbps DSL line, but what is going to change??? Sprint should have gone all out with the WiMAX network before even considering a switch to LTE. Now they have two 4G networks that are only meh at best, as both still don’t have the bandwidth to really be 4G networks, and a fragmented phone lineup between WiMax and LTE devices.

    • Robert Butler

      Thank you for sharing that information. I guess I’ve been listening too much to the hype without hearing the real scoop here. You make some very good points there. Obviously their network can only realistically handle 20-30 users per tower at the moment (since they are only committing to 2-3Mbps) average speed with both their WiMax and LTE networks.

      Honestly though, ClearWire was telling me almost two years ago that they would be upgrading their equipment to LTE soon. They are just now rolling out LTE support in only limited neighborhoods. So, although it may not make sense for them to upgrade at this point, they do have to start doing it at some point just to keep up with the competition.

      I’ll definitely keep what you’ve said in mind though before I pick another carrier. Sprint’s true unlimited data service is their one greatest selling point for smartphones and 4G service. Who knows if they’ll change that once they overhaul their network to handle true WiMax or LTE speeds.

    • I work for a company that works with cellular carriers for backhaul using 10G fiber connections, and is some cases, multiple strands. All three of the big carriers have worked with us at some point, so I do not believe this is any longer the case. While I do not have any hard evidence to this, the article was written three years ago and there have been alot of changes in the industry since then, especially when it comes to data intensive devices.

    • Brad Ackerman

      Sprint’s existing service in Silicon Valley doesn’t even manage to consistently work, let alone provide adequate speed. If they rolled out LTE there, you’d just have a 20 Mb/s Uu interface going to the same thicknet drop. Oh, did I say thicknet? I meant a flaky 9600 bps leased-line.

      • Ian Littman

        In all seriousness, Sprint is probably held up by strict permitting in the SF area. All them darned NIMBYs. I’m sitting on Sprint LTE a couple miles outside a town of 10,000 because here there are plenty of 250-foot cell towers to strap equipment to.

        Also, Sprint’s contractor for the area’s LTE equipment and deployment, Samsung, has a bigger fish to fry: Chicago. The new 3G equipment is incompatible with the older 3G equipment (Motorola) in certain instances, causing tons of dropped calls during the transition to the newer stuff (which will improve 3G speeds as well as 4G). So I suppose you could say that, despite the crappy SF bay performance (which wasn’t actually that horrid the last time I visited, in April 2011), Sprint does have their priorities in line when it comes to deploying their network.

        Oh, and don’t worry that Sprint will have lackluster LTE when it does roll out. If you’ve got a bar of CDMA service now, you’ll have at least that much LTE, possibly more, backed by fiber-fed cell sites for which bandwidth won’t be an issue. I can get 25 Mbps downloads in certain places here in Fredericksburg, TX on Sprint LTE…and that’s to SoftLayer in Dallas, not some handpicked Sprint speedtest server. It’s awesome.

        — posted via Sprint LTE, tethered wirelessly to a Galaxy SIII