Sprinting to LTE

Alan Weissberger connects the dots regarding several different announcements from Sprint and Ericsson and infers that Sprint is building an LTE network. This is big news, as, to date, Sprint has relied on Clearwire and its WiMAX infrastructure for its next generation network build. Alan suggests, we may see a Sprint offering of an LTE Network as early as 2012.

Sprint awarded Ericsson a contract as a key equipment and service provider for Sprint’s Network Vision program. Integral to this program is the use of multi-band, multi standard radios that will consume significantly less space and support 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz from one base-station. Weissberger points out that Ericsson does not have a publicly announced mobile WiMAX product and is a strong advocate of LTE.

Further, in the Ericsson-supplied, edited video package below, Ericsson President and CEO Hans Vestberg alludes to using assets purchased from Nortel. A quick look at past press releases indicates that CDMA and LTE were key technologies acquired in these purchases.

Weissberger concludes, “That Sprint will develop its own multimode EVDO/CDMA/LTE network while it continues to resell Clearwire’s Mobile WiMAX; and that LTE will operate in one or more of those bands.” He suggests that Sprint will continue to resell Clearwire in 2011.

Sprint estimates a net financial benefit of $10 to $11 billion over a 7-year period from capital expenditure savings, reduction in cell sites, lower energy expenses, backhaul savings and lower roaming costs. If Weissberger is right, this series of announcements may be part of a larger Sprint effort to demonstrate to Wall Street that it is not dependent on Clearwire for its 4G offering.

And Weissberger asks the question, "What happens to Clearwire when its 2011 WiMAX build outs are complete? There does not appear to be a WiMAX 2.0 (IEEE 802.16m) in the company's future and they will certainly require additional financing (beyond their proposed $1.2B debt offering) sometime in 2011 to survive as a viable entity."

What do you think?

Note: Features such as Push- to-Talk from Nextel’s iDEN network will be part of Network Vision

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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9 replies on “Sprinting to LTE”

The 3 RAN equipment vendors chosen for Sprint's Network Vision program send off conflicting messages.

1.  Ericsson is an LTE only vendor that has always been against WiMAX

2.  Alcatel-Lucent originally was pursuing both LTE and WiMAX, but dropped the latter in Jan 2009

3.  Samsung is a WiMAX RAN vendor that is not considered a leader (or even an also ran) in LTE equipement.

MYSTERY: The three vendor's RAN equipment/base stations are to each cover 1/3 of Sprint's U.S. coverage area with "multi-mode" technology. While this sounds crazy, the logical conclusion is that Sprint would offer LTE (from Ericsson and Alcatel) in 2/3 of the US and WiMAX in the other 1/3 (dedicated to Samsung's multi-mode base stations).  Moreover, it would be a lot easier for Samsung to support WiMAX + LTE, then for Ericsson or Alcatel to backtrack and support WiMAX as well as LTE. 

BOTTOM LINE: We suspect that SPRINT will build its own WiMAX network using Samsung base stations and devices. That is in addition to offering LTE via Ericsson and Alcatel. And in those LTE coverage areas, SPRINT will resell Clearwire’s WiMAX service.

Samsung’s WiMAX base stations used in Clearwire’s network operate at 2.5GHz – a frequency band that Sprint also owns. It’s therefore likely Samsung will support WiMAX in that band for Sprint’s Network Vision. But we’re not sure about what technologies will be used in the 800 MHz and 1900 MHz spectrum mentioned in Samsung’s press release below (there’s no WiMAX Forum profile as far as we know for those bands)

In their press release, Sprint wrote:  "The Network Vision multi-mode base station will include the ability for Sprint to use spectrum bands on multiple technologies"

Key points in the Samsung press release imply that the company will be building out WiMAX for both Clearwire (its existing customer for WiMAX RAN equipment) and Sprint (new build outs).

"The next-generation multi-mode base stations will be deployed to enhance Sprint's usage of its 800 MHz and 1900 MHz spectrum bands and support Clearwire's nationwide build-out of Mobile WiMAX. Samsung is one of three vendors that signed five-year agreements to deploy the equipment and services."

"Samsung has been working closely with Sprint for the last three years to build-out 4G service compliant with the Mobile WiMAX standard"

"Sprint’s 4G network assets were combined with Clearwire in a 2008 merger and Samsung is now one of the lead vendors that has helped Clearwire make Mobile WiMAX available to more than 100 million people in the United States this year."

Bob Azzi, Sprint's senior vice president of networks, said that if Sprint decides to move to LTE, its new multi-mode base stations will give it the flexibility to easily make that transition. Sprint would have to install a radio head on its cell sites for LTE spectrum, add in a new baseband card to the base station and then perform a software update.
But how does a Sprint move to LTE benefit Clearwire?
During a conference call with analysts to discuss the project, Steve Elfman, Sprint's president of networks and wholesale, said the project provides "a good opportunity for the two companies [Sprint and Clearwire] to network share if we so choose." Clearwire already shares a "significant number" of sites with Sprint, Clearwire CFO Erik Prusch said last week.

Read more: Sprint's network plan provides Clearwire with an LTE escape hatch – FierceWireless

Kevin Fritchard:
"Sprint (NYSE:S) at least will trial long-term evolution (LTE) next year, using its own networks and own spectrum. The Network Vision announcement Monday was a dead giveaway. As Sprint replaces its legacy CDMA-only infrastructure with next-generation multi-mode gear, it will be free to reconfigure those networks to whatever technologies it chooses. Assuming Sprint uses the latest generation of CDMA 1X technology, it will be able to shove four times as many conversations on a single 1X carrier as it has in the past. If it can cram eight old 1X carriers into two new ones, it suddenly has the 20 MHz necessary to offer an LTE service on par with Verizon’s (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD). Sprint will start shutting down iDEN markets in 2013, but that doesn’t mean it can’t start clearing out spectrum in the 800 MHz band sooner (Nextel’s customer base isn’t exactly growing). If it can free up enough frequencies, Sprint could start deploying LTE in some markets at 800 MHz, which shares much of the same propagation advantages as the 700 MHz being used by VZW and AT&T (NYSE:T)"

Interestingly, there are a number of BIP Stimulus Award winners who are promising the deployment of "fixed/mobile 4G WiMAX networks."  By themselves, these networks are not enough to drive an ecosystem of handsets and nationwide interoperability.  

– Will they have to switch to an LTE approach (can they even do so, with the spectrum they have)?  

– If they can switch to LTE, will this significantly delay their plans, such they would be in default on award provisions? 

– If they deliver just the "fixed WiMAX" part of the network and not the mobile, will this be defaulting on their awards?  Lots of potentially interesting things that will play out in the next 2.5 years.  

The whole purpose of IEEE 802.16e-2005 was to support both fixed and mobile WiMAX from the same RAN  infrastructure.  For fixed access only, 802.16d would be cheaper, but Intel and other IC manufacturers have discontinued making silicon for that standard.
One of the IEEE ComSocSCV Discussion list members ("Angry Old Man") wrote that fixed WiMAX could be a very effective alternative for high speed DSL if the price were competitive with that technology.  For sure, it could be deployed where there is no DSL coverage, e.g. rural or underved/ underserved areas

"While Sprint's CEO recently denied that deploying LTE was on Sprint's radar, we continue to hear from multiple Sprint employees who insist Sprint is absolutely beginning an LTE network build as part of this project starting next year. Sprint only vaguely hints at this possibility in their press release, proclaiming the project simply "creates network flexibility" in terms of next-generation upgrades."

Many questions arise
Won't it be more expensive for Sprint to deploy CDMA/EVDO, WiMAX and LTE? 
Will "4G" customers need a tri-mode device/handset so they can always access at least one of the three mobile networks?  If so, what will the power consumption be like? 
And what about handoffs from LTE to EVDO (Verizon already acknowledged that as a potential problem) and to/from LTE and WiMAX (unknown)?

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