Sprint, LightSquared and Clearwire - when will an LTE network happen

Sprint, LightSquared and Clearwire - when will an LTE network happen
Over the past year or so, there have been plenty of rumors suggesting that Sprint would eventually drop WiMAX as its 4G wireless broadband technology of choice in favor of the LTE standard, yet the possibility of these speculations materializing has never been as high as it is today. The sealed and signed deal between Sprint and LTE wholesaler LightSquared is, of course, the event leading everyone to believe that the carrier is indeed looking into an LTE future. But leaving speculations aside, what are the real chances of such a transition ever happening, how will it affect the industry, and most importantly, when will the end user be able to bear the fruits of the change? Let us take a closer look at the situation now and see if we can make any predictions.

Shaking hands with LightSquared

The first item to go under the microscope is the freshly-baked partnership between Sprint and LightSquared. The 15-year deal between the two companies was inked on July 28 and states that over the course of 11 years, Sprint is to get $9 billion in cash from LightSquared for providing the infrastructure needed to host its LTE network. An additional $4.5 billion worth of credits towards LTE and satellite service will also go straight to Sprint's wallet. Furthermore, the carrier will be given the opportunity to purchase up to 50% of LightSquared's 4G band capacity. In return, LightSquared will be given roaming access to Sprint's 3G network starting 2012 and will save a tremendous amount of cash for utilizing Sprint's towers and equipment instead of deploying its own. If everything goes as planned, LightSquared is expected to cover about 260 million Americans with its LTE umbrella by 2015.

But having the partnership between Sprint and LightSquared set in stone means that the carrier will surely go LTE eventually, right? Well, not necessarily. Despite all the speculations supporting that theory, Sprint has never made an official statement saying that such a transition is about to happen. Nothing is guaranteed until we hear the words coming straight from the horse's mouth. Besides that, LightSquared has been having some serious troubles getting its LTE network up and running as the chunk of frequency spectrum used for the service has been found to be in interference with GPS equipment. Until a solution to the problem is found, the switch to LightSquared's LTE network simply cannot be switched on. Still, the company has agreed to test a different piece of frequency spectrum, which will likely be used for LTE services if found to be having no effect on GPS gear.

The future of Clearwire

However, if Sprint does eventually decide to switch to LTE, what would happen to its current WiMAX service provider – Clearwire? This logical question arose right after the deal between LightSquared and the carrier was signed, yet a probable outcome became apparent soon after. Only about a week later, Clearwire announced its plans to embrace the LTE standard as well while gradually drifting away from WiMAX. As a result, Sprint reportedly initiated talks about purchasing Clearwire entirely, 54% of which it already owns. There is a catch, however, as Clearwire will require a considerable amount of cash, about $600 million, to be exact, before deployment of its LTE network could start, and that money, would supposedly come out of Sprint's pocket. The carrier has yet to announce officially whether it would grab the remaining portion of Clearwire and put it to good use.

Flipping the LTE switch on

Still, if a day comes when Sprint officially adopts 4G LTE, teaming up with both LightSquared and Clearwire may prove more than beneficial as it would considerably speed up the process of spreading its LTE coverage across the nation. Furthermore, LightSquared and Clearwire use spectrums in different bands, 1.5GHz and 2.5GHz respectively, which means that the former will have rock-solid coverage in rural areas and the latter will have a stronger urban coverage. And if supporting both frequencies on its devices sounds like a bit of a concern, dual mode LTE networks are operational in some countries around the world, meaning that it wouldn't be that much of a technical challenge for Sprint to equip its LTE-enabled smartphones, tablets and access points with dual mode LTE radios.

But the matter that interests subscribers the most is when they will be able to take a ride on Sprint's hypothetical 4G LTE network. Well, assuming that such a network gets announced, it might be quite a wait as LightSquared is expected to start offering 4G service no sooner than next year. Besides that, it would take some time before the first LTE-enabled devices start popping up on Sprint's shelves. Presumably, LTE hotspots and USB dongles will not take that long to develop, but 4G LTE smartphones for Sprint might not become reality before the second or third quarter of 2012. How many markets will Sprint bless with LTE coverage is another thing that needs to be considered. Unless you happen to live in a city chosen for Sprint's LTE network to debut in, do not expect to have LTE service from the carrier straight from day one.

For now, Sprint subscribers will have to settle down with WiMAX 4G service, which is not going to be shut down anytime soon. Clearwire stated that it will continue to support its existing WiMAX network for a considerable period of time and is even expecting to add an additional 2 million subscribers to its database by the end of the year. However, it isn't exactly clear whether the network's coverage is to be expanded any further.

Additional details are expected to be announced during the Sprint Strategy Update event, which is to take place on October 7, so if you are crossing your fingers in hopes of Sprint switching to LTE, you might want to mark that date in your calendar.



1. The_Miz

Posts: 1496; Member since: Apr 06, 2011

First comment. 4G sucks anyway.

10. PeterIfromsweden

Posts: 1230; Member since: Aug 03, 2011

Is that because your dear iphone 5 wont have 4G ?

12. jbash

Posts: 345; Member since: Feb 07, 2011


16. cj unregistered

good one iphone is overrated

15. downphoenix

Posts: 3165; Member since: Jun 19, 2010

ifans think it will be 5G

20. CRICKETownz

Posts: 980; Member since: Oct 24, 2009

the population of ppl who have no idea what 3G/4G/LTE is is much more massive than the population of us techie's who are up on the latest technology. So...iPhone is not missing anything in this stage of the game if they bypass 4G. Esp. with the price tags on 4G devices being significantly higher than 3G devices & the limited 4G coverage on all carriers (except for T-Mobile which boasts the biggest 4G network but their coverage seems to be about the size of a janitor's closet). side note - HSPA+ seems to dwell in the same fictional land as unicorns & fairies b/c according the those former T-Mobile customers that fatten my commission checks 21mbps hasn't been even close to what they have experienced. haven't met one satisfied customer of theirs.

19. GeekMovement unregistered

Just wait 'til apple decides to copy & put the 4G option in their phones... I guess there will be something in the iphone that YOU think sucks after all...

2. Mr.Mr.Upgrade

Posts: 474; Member since: Aug 30, 2011

So sprint picked the wrong 4g wimax the first time, and now correcting it by choosing another one, wow you people who own sprint like to have a company with no sense of planning a business, sprint do us a favor get a gps,flashlight,and a map and find a better business, when u people going to learn cheap is not always better, Nike Jordans are better then converse, a bmw is better then a Toyota,and Verizon is better then any phone company u put it against, let's be real, most people can't afford something that's why they complain,

5. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

They didnt pick the "wrong 4g", they picked the technology that was available right then and there. Their goal was to get a jump on the competition by being the first to "4g" and hopefully increase sales. Back then sprint was bleeding like a patient from "Friday the 13th", and it needed a gimmick to stop that. For the most part it worked. Had clearwire not oversold and under developed its network they wouldnt be in such a hurry to hit LTE.

7. simplyj

Posts: 406; Member since: Dec 23, 2009

A BMW is better than Toyota? Snicker Snicker

18. IHatePhones

Posts: 99; Member since: Aug 12, 2009

Nah not quite, had WiMax gotten to revision 2, it would have been very very fast. LTE just came on too strong and lured the WiMax investors away.

14. ECPirate37

Posts: 338; Member since: Jul 14, 2011

Nike owns Converse, so you are comparing the company to itself (and saying "better than" is better than saying "better then").

22. WKlingbeil

Posts: 215; Member since: Dec 26, 2008

Sprint didn't pick the wrong 4G and they didn't settle with the one available right then and there to stop losing customers. They were faced with a decision: use your spectrum, or lose it. Naturally, they chose to use it, and that's why they chose WiMax, because LTE was not available in 2005. Apparently, according to your logic, they should have let the government auction their spectrum off, because they wouldn't want the "wrong 4g," right? So Mr.Mr.Upgrade, perhaps it's time to upgrade your news source before you post a comment that has no informative backing to it.

3. Mr.Mr.Upgrade

Posts: 474; Member since: Aug 30, 2011

Apple sucks

4. Mr.Mr.Upgrade

Posts: 474; Member since: Aug 30, 2011

apple better have 4g something are they going to be 4got about

8. simplyj

Posts: 406; Member since: Dec 23, 2009

I think Apple realizes that the potential of 4G isn't there yet, so they're not going to waste their time trying to put it in their phones.

11. dashak unregistered

The "potential" is definitely there already...dunno what would make anyone think it isn't. Verizon's 4G coverage is massive and with minimum download speeds of 5 - 7 mbps it's definitely a huge improvement over 3G. Also that's a MINIMUM of 5-7, speeds of 12-16 mbps aren't unheard of. Whatsmore, as Android updates my bet is those speeds improve and the "minimum" on those D/L speeds will rise quickly.

23. WKlingbeil

Posts: 215; Member since: Dec 26, 2008

Actually, as more and more 4G users come onboard, VZW is going to struggle with bandwidth because there is an extremely small percentage of their users currently on 4G. Sprint's WiMax was pulling 12-15 Mbps right before the first 4G phone came out (the Evo demo units), but once it launched, speeds dropped dramatically. The same will happen to VZW's LTE, possibly more so because they have like 1/4 the bandwidth Sprint has. Also, their 4G coverage is no larger than anyone else's, so it's definitely not "massive."

6. dashak unregistered

Lightsquared was having issues with their frequencies interfering with those in use by GPS...as far as I am aware there was never really any resolution, with Lightsquared [continually] pointing the finger at the GPS manufacturers and the GPS manufacturers just kind of brushing it off. I'd like to see Sprint 4G in the 1.5 banding, though even with the 2.5 banding the issue is coverage radius...as Sprint WiMax 4G phones receive Android 2.3.x they also see major improvements to data networking speeds (3G and 4G) through the upgraded OS alone, as well as increased 4G signal reception...and that makes it seem that, in my opinion, there is still room to work with WiMax and improve upon it. Sprint will most likely switch to LTE a little down the line, which makes me somewhat worried about the fate of WiMax. I'm not the biggest fan of it but if more towers were thrown up to expand coverage (main issue), WiMax would be nothing to scoff at...just don't see that happening, at least no new big markets/expansions. I'm thinking it'll be a while before Sprint even has an LTE game plan figured out, with even more time between that and the actual beginning of the rollout. Guess we'll find out in October.

9. simplyj

Posts: 406; Member since: Dec 23, 2009

I would be crazy awesome if Sprint surprised everyone and launched LTE Advanced, true 4G.

13. Forced unregistered

It appeared that Sprint was looking to dump Clearwire when they seemed to "jump ship" to LightSquared and their 15 year ga-zillion dollar deal. With LightSquared getting resistance from what appears at every angle, Sprint almost has no choice now and to a degree is being forced to go back to Clearwire. Clearwire has the towers and infrastructure now which could be upgraded to LTE a lot sooner than/when/if LightSquared can get their act together. I am a Clear home internet user ... I love it. It works for me. Better than what DSL could give me. It serves me just great. The download rates my wife gets though on her Verizon LTE Thunderbolt though ... drool drool drool. Can't wait till Clear bumps up to LTE ;) Sprint has no choice at this point at least to continue and grow their relationship with Clearwire.

17. IHatePhones

Posts: 99; Member since: Aug 12, 2009

Just so you know, Sprint owns more than half of Clear. So there is no "Go back to Clearwire", end result Clear benefits from this deal as much if not more so than Sprint does. Besides, they've been toying around with LTE for a bit themselves as well, this just speeds up their timetable.

21. pplmisinformed

Posts: 1; Member since: Sep 13, 2011

simple and Clear. Clearwire built the core network that 50% owner and the board approved as a Phase I build to get Wimax out there and get customers up and going and revenues flowing. Sprint's inability to get any deal done and tendency to over negotiate everything (T-mo anyone?) lead to board room problems last year and a breach of funding to do the next two phase of the build (in building and additional tower density etc.). Moving to LTE has always been a plan B since day one and became plan A after extensive testing showed speeds that VZ will never, ever be able to get on their 700 mhz network with the limited spectrum that they have. The rest of world is standardizing on TDD-LTE at 2.5 ghz b/c the data throughput is so much higher at 2.5 ghz. Using wide-band builds at 2.5 ghz will allow for speeds up to 150 mbps down and by using TDD technology you don't have to have symetrical spectrum alllowing for a wider downlink than uplink. Lightsquared by the way? a complete joke of an unethical company with little spectrum, a business plan that can't be profitable and an actual inability to fund themselves. Its all there to understand if one does the research.

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