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Nextel shutdown will leave 45,000 tons of network junk. How Sprint plans to recycle it

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On June 30, Sprint(s s) will shut down its Nextel iDEN network, which will not only leave thousands of Nextel holdouts without service, but also stick the carrier with 100 million lbs. — more than 45,000 metric tons — of cell site junk. Sprint, however, isn’t planning to dump it all into a landfill. It said on Wednesday it would recycle nearly all of it.

While there is a market for old mobile network equipment, iDEN is a dying technology, and Nextel was the world’s largest iDEN carrier. iDEN’s sole manufacturer, Motorola Solutions, still supports the technology and a handful of operators in North and South America, as well as Asia, still use it, but it’s doubtful Sprint would be able to find many buyers.

Sprint logo signSprint spokesman Mike Bonavia said that Sprint would hand over some 30,000 decommissioned base stations to industrial recyclers who will likely dismantle them and sell off the materials. It will do the same with the server racks, antennas, air conditioners, backup batteries and cables linked to those base stations.

In many cases, iDEN sites are co-located with Sprint’s CDMA and LTE networks, and in those instances the peripheral gear and facilities can be reused. At iDEN-only sites, Sprint plans to crush its concrete shelters into composite material for roads and bridges. Though the network will go off the air at the end of the month, Sprint is projecting the recycling effort will last well into 2014.

The recycling and reusing move isn’t just about PR. Sprint can save significant money by reusing its tech, and could make money from recycling, if it sells the scrap to a waste vendor. There are also some state laws that require recycling of certain types of e-waste, particularly substances that could be a hazardous material that could seep into a landfill.

There are still a lot of customers holding onto their Nextel and Boost Mobile iDEN devices. At the end of the first quarter, 1.3 million iDEN connections were still live despite Sprint’s use of both the carrot and the stick to get them to leave. Bonavia told me that since the last quarterly update Sprint has managed to lure more customers away from iDEN and over to Sprint’s CDMA service, and it hopes to bring most of the remainder on board in the next 25 days.

At 12:01 AM on June 30, though, those still using an iDEN phone will suddenly find themselves with a dead device.

Sprint store photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Susan Law Cain

8 Responses to “Nextel shutdown will leave 45,000 tons of network junk. How Sprint plans to recycle it”

  1. Alene Ann Pulliza

    I have problems with Sprint. I cannot get service at my home unless I stand in the middle of my street. This has been going on for over a month. Sprint told me to get a land line if I was that worried. During a conversation with a Sprint store employee today, he mentioned that my service prior to this must have used a Nextel tower and they were being removed. Tough luck for me. There is no solution unless I spend $350 to buy out the contract. As for a land line — AT&T service is just as bad. I went to a cell phone because AT&T could not provide reliable service! Will check out Verizon.

  2. roy jones

    sprint bought this Nextel company witch was one of the most dependable phone systems ive ever used and just shut it down . the push to talk system is the worst system ive ever seen even the phone only works some time you push the button you have to wait 2 or 3 mint to get through then the sound brakes up they are a unsable company to deal with

  3. Had Nextel for 15 years with no problems. Switched to Sprint in May 2012. Service was horible whereever i was. Switched back to Nextel till they started bumping up prices in January 2013. Tried Sprint again, no better. 2 way really sucked.
    hads to buy out of contract. Went to Verizon with push to talk. Best move i ever made. Works fine now

  4. Betty Keller

    I went to Nextel because of the poor sprint signal in our area 3 years ago following a winter storm.and it is still very poor to the point of having to use an inside airave. So, why would any one stay with sprint when they have not fixed the problem in the 97362 area. I already have my Version phones and they work just fine with the temporary number given me until the 29th of June. I will NOT waste any more money with Sprint. Furthermore, they locked out my phone several times with this message and have to wait for a CS rep. and I have made my wishes known. I have hired an attorney who by the way was also a Nextel user until January, but with the lock out they put on the phone, on May 26 I needed to call a non emergency number because my husband fell and I needed a lift assist and more O-2. This could have turned out much different. When you rely on a phone for emergency use it better be there and it was locked out. They lost me after 11 years with sprint, time to move on with the service going down hill in our area. This might not be true in all areas but it sure is here.

    • William Diaz

      Betty – If Sprint has a poor signal in your area, why would you go to Nextel? 3 years ago Nextel was still part of Sprint. If you didnt trust Sprint then, why would you use another one of their networks?
      It’s Verizon not Version – and you dont have a temporary number with them as Verizon doesnt issue temporary accounts. You either sign up or you dont! They arent in the business to do you favors when Sprint wont.
      You cant hire an attorney – its in your contract! If you do, Sprint is in every right to terminate your service AND charge you the ETF! You must use mediation if you wish to have Sprint hear your case. This rule applies with ALL wireless providers, not just Sprint-Nextel.
      If you needed an emergency phone, and trust Verizon, why wouldnt you get a prepaid or month-to-month senior plan, as Verizon has. It costs less than anything else around and Verizon has the best coverage of all networks. Im just baffled by your poor choices.

  5. Robin Ingenthron

    Most of the oldest electronics recycling companies were started by the young men and women who were stuck with AT&T equipment after the breakup and baby bell takeoff. Much of the infrastructure in South America and Africa came from those companies.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Yep, if Nextel was a GSM or CDMA network I’m sure they could find buyers, but no one is really buying iDEN gear unless SouthernLinc needs some backup units

      • William Diaz

        Since all CDMA carriers are moving to HSPA+ or LTE by 2017 at the latest, I dont see CDMA equipment being sold and bought anymore. There may still be a few pieces that are hard to get, but thats just more reason for a network to upgrade to the next technology rather than repair it and wait for those parts to come in. Not to mention all carriers want All-IP networks vs circuit switched networks.
        As for GSM, there may still be a few more years left, but when you look at current networks dismantling majority of their GSM in favor of HSPA+ and/or LTE, the parts they are dismantling are going right back into their own recycling program to reuse those parts on the little GSM left they have. Meaning, there is no demand but a huge supply, meaning no one is buying the parts, but they will still be used and meaningful for another few years.