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Sprint Sees Wireless Network Overhaul, Consolidation

Network Vision plan will merge CDMA and WiMax and phase out the aging Nextel iDEN network to accelerate data and voice delivery, save billions of dollars.

Sprint Nextel announced that it will consolidate its three network technologies into one, seamless network. Sprint's CDMA and WiMax networks will be consolidated in a plan to beef up both data and voice delivery, while Nextel's aging iDEN network will eventually be phased out.

The $5 million consolidation plan -- called Network Vision -- is expected to save $11 billion over seven years.

Sprint said it has awarded contracts to three network providers -- Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Samsung -- to deploy the advanced technologies by consolidating the three networks.

"Network Vision builds on our legacy of wireless innovation and represents the next step in the evolution of our networks to best meet unprecedented growth in mobility services," said Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO in a statement. "We are well-positioned to take advantage of new technology, chipsets, devices and applications. Working with these three partners, we expect to deliver to our customers the most cutting-edge network capabilities available today and in the future."

The three networking equipment providers will install gear and software in different U.S. regions that will consolidate three different spectrum bands into single, multimode base stations. The new consolidated network will also be able to be easily moved to Long-Term Evolution (LTE), if the firm eventually decides to utilize that 4G technology. Sprint has had an LTE trial underway in Arizona for months.

Sprint said it will augment its 1.9-GHz service with its 800-MHz spectrum, which has been utilized by Nextel, and use it to enhance in-building coverage. The consolidation will also include 2.5-GHz spectrum, which Sprint utilizes via its relationship with Clearwire. Additional advantages to accrue to its surviving services will be advanced push-to-talk (PTT) broadband solutions and machine-to-machine applications.

"Marrying the industry's only sub-second PTT call setup with broadband data directly supports our customers' needs," said Steve Elfman, president of Sprint's network operations & wholesale unit, in a statement. "We fully expect a competitively priced lineup of rugged handsets and smartphones on the CDMA network."

The Network Vision project will eventually lead to the demise of the old Nextel iDEN network, which has been losing customers at a rapid rate. Acquired in 2005 for $35 billion, Nextel has been an albatross around Sprint's neck. Sprint has already written off most, if not all of the acquisition, and has carried out a costly project to move Nextel networks away from public safety networks. Sprint has indicated it will continue service for Nextel subscribers and also offer them subsidies to shift to its CDMA network. Sprint's Boost Mobile service also operates on the iDEN network.

The consolidation program will result in greater density for Sprint's CDMA network. The announcement Monday, however, did not address Sprint's involvement as the majority stockholder in Clearwire. Sprint's Hesse and other Sprint directors recently left Clearwire's board of directors, reportedly over regulatory concerns. Sprint has had initial success with its WiMax offerings, enough so that the true 4G service has jumped to a lead over Verizon Wireless' LTE service, which is debuting this week.

Sprint also indicated the Network Vision program will result in the decommissioning of many cell sites, resulting in substantial environmental savings by reducing carbon footprint and energy consumption. The Network Vision program is expected to get underway next year and take from three to five years to complete.

"This is a very bold move," Heavy Reading senior consultant Berge Ayvazian said of the Network Vision program. "Sprint (is) first to deploy a common converged mobile network that will strengthen its 3G services; enhance its 4G technology options; and continue delivering the industry's leading push-to-talk offering."

For Further Reading

Sprint Execs Resign From Clearwire Board

Sprint May Write Off Value Of Nextel Acquisition

Sprint, Digi Introduce First Commercial 4G Routers

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