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WSJ: Sprint may not have enough unused spectrum for high-quality LTE rollout

Posted: , by Alan F.


WSJ: Sprint may not have enough unused spectrum for high-quality LTE rollout
While Sprint has already turned on its LTE service in 15 markets, a report in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend says that Sprint might not be able to complete a high-quality LTE spectrum in time to prevent customers from departing the carrier. Sprint is planning on converting part of its network currently used for Nextel for its LTE pipeline. Unfortunately, that part of the puzzle won't be available to Sprint until 2014. A few months ago, Sprint said that it would be closing its iDEN PTT Direct Connect service as soon as June 2013 as it switches over to CDMA Direct Connect. To complete the LTE network build out, he nation's third largest carrier will be relying on its Clearwire subsidiary to fill in the gaps, but by then it might be too late to prevent a mass exodus of customers.

Verizon currently covers 330 markets with its LTE signal and AT&T has 47 LTE markets. T-Mobile will be starting to build its system sometime next year. Sprint has held on the belief that with fewer subscribers than Verizon and AT&T, it will require less spectrum than those two. But the difference is that Sprint does not have the cash that fills the vaults at Verizon and AT&T. In the first quarter of this year, the carrier lost 192,000 subscribers and $863 million. Brokerage house Sanford Bernstein says that shutting down the Nextel network will result in a drop in revenue right at the time that costs for building the LTE network peak.

Sprint is relying on sales of the Apple iPhone to line its vault

Sprint is relying on sales of the Apple iPhone to line its vault

While Sprint did report $7.6 billion in gross cash at the end of Q1 (Hey! No cash is gross to us) which should support the expected $5.7 billion cost of the LTE build out over the next two years, the carrier has some debt due which we're sure they would rather payoff then risk a visit from their friendly banker. The amount of debt due through next year equals $1.8 billion with an additional $1.4 billion due in 2014 and $2.6 billion due in 2015. From those years forward, debt remains elevated. And sitting back and doing nothing won't work. The company has $22 billion in debt with a market value of $10 billion. Based on quotes for Sprint's credit default swaps (basically a financial transaction that protects your debt holdings from bankruptcy) from financial information provider Markit, investors are pricing in a 47% chance that Sprint will go bankrupt.

The one thing that would help solve Sprint's problems, an increase in business, may not be in the cards. For years, Sprint said that business would be much better if only it could offer the Apple iPhone to its customers. Last year, Sprint took a $15.5 billion gamble, signing a contract with Apple guaranteeing that amount of sales of the popular smartphone over a four year period. BTIG says that the deal calls for the mobile operator to sell 6.25 million to 7.5 million units of the device each year, or pay a penalty. Sprint's first quarter report shows that it is selling the phone at an annualized rate of 6.2 million units. While Sprint won't comment on the actual amount of Apple iPhone it has contracted to sell each year, it does say that with the addition of units sold through its pre-paid Virgin Mobile subsidiary, it should be able to meet the requirements of the contract with Apple. CEO Dan Hesse earlier said that the carrier won't make money on the contract with Apple until 2015.

source: WSJ

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posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:08 9

1. mas11 (Posts: 1015; Member since: 30 Mar 2012)

Wow is sounds like Sprint signed everything over to Apple with that contract.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:15 2

5. Galen20K (Posts: 504; Member since: 26 Dec 2008)

they might as well have... see people really wanted the iPhone on Sprint, but was it really worth the price they paid?? think about it, Sprint has not been in the best financial position for the longest time.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:20 2

7. darkkjedii (Posts: 9290; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)

Since way before the iPhone though

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 22:39 1

22. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5483; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

it looks like they just barely bury the cost of carrying it which pretty much means it was a worthless endeavor for them to make so soon. Apple Contracts are really taking a toll on Carriers, even Big Red which is the largest Carrier in the States.

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 12:28 1

28. Aeires (unregistered)

It's hard to have sympathy for someone who willingly made that deal. If they aren't making money, why bother selling it?

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 20:34 2

34. lsutigers (Posts: 670; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)

It is very difficult to make money with the iPhone with the huge subsidies as KingKurogiii mentioned, there is some truth to Verizon pushing Android over iPhone, and it's not just LTE. The main reason carriers pick up the iPhone is because iPhone customers are very loyal and have a high renewal rate. The iPhone has worked out for Sprint as 50% of their iPhones sold are to new customers, mainly AT&T and VZW customers where as AT&T and VZW are selling about 15% to new customers, mostly upgrades (current customers).

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 08:04 2

25. QWIKSTRIKE (Posts: 800; Member since: 09 Mar 2010)

15 billion dollars in debt o Apple was an idiotic move. They should have rolled LTE out with that money, and sold Galaxy Nexus, and SG III and the EVO 4G LTE. Those Phones are top tier phones and with Samsung on the rise and Apple on the decline "right now" they would have been oki. Verizon has decided to sell "Droids" in lieu of iPhones.

Their subsidies are too high of a cost for what they offer. WP8 will start eating their sales along with Samsung GS III and the new Galaxy Nexus in my opinion.

posted on 24 Jul 2012, 02:30

35. Gawain (Posts: 304; Member since: 15 Apr 2010)

Sprint is still paying terribly for their acquisition of Nextel to the tune of $35B+ years ago. It leveraged them to the hilt and now if they sold everything including the office furniture they can't cover the nut.

They didn't help themselves when they handed Clearwire the keys to a whole bunch of their spectrum that was used for the WiMAX rollout either. That little entity is burning through cash at such a crazy pace that if they go under, there is not guarantee Sprint can expect those spectrum licenses to be returned to them if creditors are knocking on their door too.

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile may be waiting like buzzards to pick off the carcass if Sprint goes under...a lot of spectrum, an internet backbone and managed clients will flush into the market pretty quick.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:11 12

2. steve10O (Posts: 2; Member since: 22 Jul 2012)

This article makes me mad, this information has been out for awhile, and while it is partially true, Sprint is currently rolling out LTE to every 3G tower by the end of 2013 using their 1900mhz spectrum, not the same as the spectrum that Nextel devices use. This means that every Sprint user that has 3G now will have LTE by the end of 2013. Period. When they upgrade the towers to LTE, 3G performance should also improve drastically. Next summer, in addition to the 1900mhz rollout, Sprint will begin to rollout LTE Advanced in urban areas on 800mhz, which is the spectrum currently used by Nextel. With articles like this, no wonder people are wanting to leave Sprint, I just wish everybody was informed, because Sprint is going to have an amazing network once all of the upgrades are done. S4GRU.com is a great place to find out more information on Sprint's Network Vision project.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:13 5

4. Contreramanjaro (Posts: 153; Member since: 04 Dec 2011)

I agree, and am a S4gru member... The article isn't even about spectrum, it's about money.

posted on 02 Feb 2013, 13:03

44. JayQ330 (Posts: 13; Member since: 15 Jul 2011)

So your saying it's okay f**k a reputable blogger to post misinformation? Or you just like reading half truth story aka, a half ass report.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:29 1

9. 14545 (Posts: 985; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)

Sprint doesn't have the same coverage as the "big two". (ATT/VZW) And unless they drastically start building out their network to more rural areas, then they can't/won't compete with the other two.I know 4 people in the last 8 months that have left because of lack of rural coverage. And I live in charlotte, which isn't rural, but if you leave the city, then coverage is crap. So even though the article is about finances, spectrum does come into play.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:53 4

10. lsutigers (Posts: 670; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)

Actually, Sprint's current footprint is larger than AT&T's but smaller than Verizon's. Additionally, Sprint and Verizon's mutual roaming agreements allow both to have very similar networks. After all of the Network Vision upgrades it will add a ton of coverage, especially with the 800mhz Nextel spectrum.

Steve10O's comments are spot on. Check out S4GRU for the real information.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:59 1

11. xcharles718 (Posts: 2; Member since: 22 Jul 2012)

Actually, Sprint's footprint is smaller than both VZW & AT&T(T-Mobile's too if your including 2G-only coverage). For a few years however, Sprint's 3G footprint was larger than AT&T & Sprint's voice footprint was larger than anyone else(post-Nextel merger).

Sprint doesn't seem to have to much interest in expanding at this time(since the Network Vision project is only being deployed in their current footprint). This might change depending on how Sprint(and their shareholders) feel after NV is complete in early 2014.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 21:52 1

20. BuckeyeCadet86 (Posts: 68; Member since: 26 Oct 2011)

Your timeline isn't remotely correct. According to Sprint's Network Vision plan it won't be until the end of 2014 or early 2015 before they have full LTE coverage. By the end of 2013 they plan to have LTE coverage to cover their current WiMax coverage areas. S4GRU.com isn't reliable as a source, go by their official press release dates otherwise you are just setting yourself up for disappointment. And while they are using some other spectrums they need all of their current spectrum to offload their overtaxed 3G and voice networks to free up the 1900 mHz spectrum. I currently use Sprint but they will not stick to the timetable for LTE-Advanced, mainly because they are relying on "Future Compression Methods" and other hypotheticals (like having money). They will not use two separate spectrums for LTE and LTE-Advanced. Theoretically all LTE devices will be compatible with LTE-Advanced signal technology so there will be no need to maintain two separate LTE networks.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 21:59 2

21. steve10O (Posts: 2; Member since: 22 Jul 2012)

When Sprint first announced Network Vision, they did say that they would complete it around 2015, but since they first announced it, things have changed and they have accelerated work on Network Vision. They had another press release that clearly states that they plan to have Network Vision fully completed by the end of 2013. In addition, the people at S4GRU get their information from Sprint sources. LTE and LTE advanced will use different spectrum, but they will come from the same towers. All of this information has been confirmed by Sprint themselves, I don't know where you are getting your information.

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 20:14

31. lsutigers (Posts: 670; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)

Steve10O is once again spot on, Sprint's Network Vision was accelerated by 2 years. Double check your facts Buckeye.

posted on 25 Jul 2012, 19:01 1

41. Joshua9007 (Posts: 38; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)

Well aren't you just so informed... not.
First, the timeline was compressed to be largely completed by 2014. Sprint's 3G will not be affected, because they are using their spectrum acquired when the 800MHz spectrum was re-banded for public safety. This PCS G-block is nationwide and will not lessen the spectrum used for any current voice and 3G services. Sprint will have a nationwide 5X5MHz LTE network on every tower, and when they finally finish a market they will have just as good of coverage with LTE as they have with 3G. (which is being simultaneously improved with new equipment as well)

For anyone that thinks that this will in some way limit sprint's network capability, don't forget that even with smaller carriers, they will be deploying them with almost twice the towers per coverage area. This means that until they are able to add the 800MHz 5x5 carrier, the network will not be over-stressed. Once the 800MHz carrier is turned on, which sprint will be able to do as soon as Network Vision is complete and iDEN is shut off.

Once, they do this all areas that have low coverage will get great coverage, and in-building coverage will get a dramatic boost. In fact, the 800MHz spectrum that sprint has, will have better coverage then the 850MHz band that Verizon uses for their rural coverage. Now they will not be initially expanding into the rural areas, but it would be *possible* for them to *eventually* match VZW's coverage map. (*Not until finances improve)

The most important thing is that it will not be 2 separate LTE networks, they will just be 2 different pieces of spectrum. They will be operating with the same equipment, same 4G cores, etc. Remember, many different phones have 'Quad band' support, sprint will eventually use 3 bands for LTE (800/1900/2500) and they are engineering it to seamlessly switch between all the bands.

posted on 02 Feb 2013, 13:16

45. JayQ330 (Posts: 13; Member since: 15 Jul 2011)

It's good to see someone knows what they're talking about.
They just put a network vision tower on my building & it's 3G is really fast for CDMA tech, 2.45/2.95 mb's download & 1.30/2 mb's upload, people think that CDMA doesn't have the ability to use data & talk such isn't true, I have the galaxy 3 & can do this. It's need's to do this in order to use its hd voice that some phones can use now, the only network that has hd voice. anyway I don't know how old this comment is but shooting just got a loan from soft bank , the biggest cellular phone company in Japan *used to be a bank, weird *, anyway the loan they received are in the billions... I think 15 billion & maybe even some made in Japan phones.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:12 1

3. Contreramanjaro (Posts: 153; Member since: 04 Dec 2011)

I can't see how they don't have enough spectrum for high quality. Sure they're only deploying 5x5 on their 1900mhz stuff but that should be fine for Sprint's smaller customer base. The Nextel stuff is for later on, on the 800mhz channels. They don't even have any phones that could utilize it yet so what is the point? Sprint deploying LTE on a larger scale is not necessary. The 800mhz stuff was only ever overflow anyways.

The majority of this article focuses on finances and I do agree that's the bigger concern. Hesse really seems to have turned the company around but I, a Sprint user myself, am not even sure that they'll pull out in time. Nextel users really need to get with the program and change carriers already anyways.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:19 4

6. tuminatr (Posts: 638; Member since: 23 Feb 2009)

come on, they will be fine. I live in Minneapolis and have had Verizon LTE here Verizon uses a 10mhz of the 700mhz band and it is great. Sprint when they turn off nextel will have 10mhz in the 800mhz band it will be compareable

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 20:06

14. e.wvu (unregistered)

True! But like the article says, Nextel's spectrum won't be available until 2014, by which time it might be a little too late for Sprint. But hopefully Sprint can hold it together until then, as I am a Sprint customer.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 20:11

15. lsutigers (Posts: 670; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)

The FCC approved LTE deployment on the Nextel spectrum months ago and Sprint is actively decommissioning sites. The Nextel network will be shut down by mid 2013 when they will have full access to that spectrum but LTE work on that spectrum should begin before the shutdown.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 20:38 1

16. e.wvu (unregistered)

Well according WSJ, which is a good source, it states 2014. I also remember reading an article a couple months back w/ Sprint stating that they would shut it down in 2014, or the end of 2013 to put. Yes, it may have been approved months ago, but doesn't mean it's going to start instantly.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 21:49 2

19. Veritas49 (Posts: 6; Member since: 22 Jul 2012)

The WSJ must not be that good of a source because Sprint has set the date as June 30, 2013.


posted on 22 Jul 2012, 23:11

23. e.wvu (unregistered)

Well, thank you for posting that link, seriously! But that's great to hear.

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 20:16

32. lsutigers (Posts: 670; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)

Thank you Veritas49, I knew my facts were correct.

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 11:59 1

27. jwalker55 (Posts: 6; Member since: 23 Jul 2012)

Yep, the WSJ needs to check their facts as usual. The first thing you learn is to never get technical information from anything with the words "Wall Street" in them. As stated, Sprint will be deploying LTE 800 in mid 2013 and that is fact. The place to get REAL information on Sprint's LTE deployment is:www.s4gru.com

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 17:31

29. downphoenix (Posts: 2232; Member since: 19 Jun 2010)

WSJ also contributed to rumors like bigger screen for the Iphone 4S, and we know how that turned out.

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 07:06

24. tuminatr (Posts: 638; Member since: 23 Feb 2009)

they also have the 2500mhz spectrum that clear is building out LTE for sprint I have not looked at there timeline but there is that too

posted on 26 Jul 2012, 11:45

42. Joshua9007 (Posts: 38; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)

Around the same time as the 800MHz 5x5 LTE carrier. But clearwire is only launching their TDD-LTE in 31 of their current Wimax markets to start on a total of 5000 sites in 2013, which will not provide complete/blanket coverage. Sprint's plan is to use the Clearwire spectrum as a lower priority compared to their own LTE spectrum, because they will be paying per GB for access.
Also, Sprint will possibly be asking clearwire to deploy additional sites anywhere in the sprint network that they see needs additional capacity. I can see NY and all the other big cities eventually covered wall to wall with Clearwire, as they are economically profitable... while other areas will be at sprint's request

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 19:20 4

8. 14545 (Posts: 985; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)

I'm just going to go ahead and say I told you so. I called it when sprint WASTED that 15.5 on the iphone. Everyone said, "oh no, that will turn out to be great". But when you're broke YOU CAN"T DO THAT. AND THEY HAVE TO HAVE LTE TO COMPETE, NOT THE OVERPRICED iPieceofjunk.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 20:00

12. xcharles718 (Posts: 2; Member since: 22 Jul 2012)

This site would give you a better idea on what the Network Vision project is about.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 20:04 2

13. lsutigers (Posts: 670; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)

LTE deployment is moving along quickly and Sprint is selling iPhones just fine and will continue through this year and next as the new LTE iPhone comes out and Network Vision's upgraded 3G and LTE come online.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 21:01 1

17. threeline (Posts: 252; Member since: 11 Sep 2011)

Sprint cell service sucks in PHX and I the Galaxy Nexus, great phone, subpar service provider.

posted on 22 Jul 2012, 21:48

18. parkwaydr (Posts: 572; Member since: 07 Sep 2011)

Sprint will be fine, id rather them take thier time and do it right, then rushing it and giving us Sprint users a crappy build out.

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 09:04

26. speed4evr (Posts: 78; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)


Sprints network vision combined with Clearwires LTE (20x20 channels) will make for a great svc soon enough

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 18:27

30. downphoenix (Posts: 2232; Member since: 19 Jun 2010)

Sprint is utilizing multi-modal tech for its new tower deployments and tower updates, which means one tower with multiple frequencies. The towers will also support both 3G and 4G LTE both. Im not sure where VZW and AT&T stand as far as this technology, but Sprint is building out network improvements that will save them money in the long run because decreasing the number of towers they need WHILE increasing coverage, meaning more new potential customers.

As far as the Iphone deal goes, it will be bad for sprint if the Iphone doesn't at least maintain its current popularitiy if nto get more popular. It will be on Apple if it doesn't sell though, because lack of innovation, like if they decide keeping the 3.5 inch screen is still fine, and if they decide, eh, let's give it another year for LTE. Apple won't have a problem selling to the sheep, but the fence sitters is what it will take for Sprint to sell the amount of phones they need to fulfill their deal, and they want the latest and greatest, but wont go with iphone if the device proves to be incremental improvement like the 4S or has problems like the 4.

posted on 23 Jul 2012, 20:27 2

33. lsutigers (Posts: 670; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)

If you look at Network Vision's "white papers", numerous presentations and independently research what Sprint is doing with NV, it is truly cutting edge. This is brand spankin' new technology and Sprint is leveraging the advantages to increase speed, coverage, capacity and flexibility. This will also help Sprint reduce their roaming agreements and cell site overhead once iDEN is fully decommissioned. This upgrade is of unprecedented scope and magnitude, and unlike anything else any other carrier has done. They are basically re-building their networks from the ground up in 2 years with additional LTE Advanced deployment after that. I believe this move will pay off for Sprint, the network was designed to support unlimited data and will be flexible enough to upgrade when the time comes, but for now, they have a lot of capacity.

posted on 24 Jul 2012, 10:43

39. TheRequiem (Posts: 107; Member since: 23 Mar 2012)

This statement is true and factual.

posted on 24 Jul 2012, 03:37

36. Forsaken77 (Posts: 542; Member since: 09 Jun 2011)

I am curious to know how many more subs sprint has than tmobile. They must be close. And when they shut down Nextel, which is alot of business customers, they'll lose alot more subs. At this point in time, I would think tmobile would be crushing sprint. Tmobile is cheaper, has better speed for data, and has comparable coverage. As far as the public knows, they both have unlimited data. So how is sprint ahead of tmobile?

posted on 24 Jul 2012, 10:41

38. TheRequiem (Posts: 107; Member since: 23 Mar 2012)

They are over 20 million subs less then Sprint... nowhere close. Sprint has also said migration to Sprint DCS from Nextel is "surpassing expecations", which means they aren't losing as much as they thought. T-Mobile and Sprint are direct competitors on price and Sprint has LTE, T-mobile does not... which makes them faster. Your out of the loop...

posted on 24 Jul 2012, 10:39 1

37. TheRequiem (Posts: 107; Member since: 23 Mar 2012)

There are multiple issues and corrections needed to this false article. Sprint did not lose $800+ million, they lost $212 million, this is a vast error that needs to be corrected. Also, Sprint lost 300,000+ customers (other carriers WAY more), but they had a net add of over a million... seriously WSJ? WSJ and the press in general have a way of manipulating numbers to look bad. I honestly see Sprint doing VERY WELL in a few years and I dont see them losing many custoemrs, they still have the cheapest iPhone. A rapid rollout of a little over a year to complete a nationwide LTE rollout is much faster then Verizon and AT&T and will result in little departure of subs. I mean, hell, they will have half the network complete this year alone!!

Sprint will actually have a major advantage for spectrum over AT&T and Verizon. Sprint is the only one who has a 2.5ghz channel being operated by Clearwire in major metropolitan area's that will have channels wide enough (20x20) to support the growth of LTE in the future, not to mention the 5x5 band on 1.9 and 10x10 on 800 it will operate. This puts them at a direct advantage over their competitors in about a years time. Also, Dan Hess and Co have also stated the stransfer of 800mhz spectrum from iden to 4G LTE Advance will happen before the end of 2013, not 2014 as the article states. All in all, there are multiple incorrect statements and false claims to this article and it's sources base.

posted on 25 Jul 2012, 17:48

40. Joshua9007 (Posts: 38; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)

dude, you have a lot of the right facts, but it is not going to be a 10x10MHz carrier in in the 800MHz band. They only have 14MHz of total spectrum in the band since they reorganized the band for public safety, that's why they got the 10MHz G block in the PCS band. Other than that, good stuff man.

posted on 10 Sep 2012, 23:48

43. speed4evr (Posts: 78; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)

In areas where they freed up enough of the 800 spectrum they will starting using it before 2012 is over and all sprint devices sold since the HTC Evo 3D support the new 800 frequency but not 800 on LTE til 2013

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