The embattled carrier created Network Vision as a way of mitigating the five current network platforms that it will power: iDEN, CDMA & EVDO, WiMAX, and LTE. All five have unique spectrum and tuning requirements that have stalled Sprint’s growth over the years. The difference between Sprint CDMA and Nextel iDEN alone cost Sprint millions of consumers, a fact Sprint has begrudgingly admitted, and attempted to correct with three iterations of Direct Connect (iDEN, QChat, and the current “remixed” QChat platform). Adding in Clearwire’s WiMAX, and Sprint’s eventual decision to go to LTE… and Sprint had to create its own solution to this spectrum problem.
Network Vision, as we have covered from the day it was announced, will allow Sprint to toggle resources and spectrum remotely, without accessing towers. This will allow Sprint to dynamically raise and lower spectrum for each of these platforms based on demand, ensuring that customers on legacy CDMA and WiMAX devices can keep using them, and that LTE will operate properly as iDEN is phased out.
The current roadmap that Sprint has announced calls for the deployment of WiMAX and CDMA as soon as possible, rollout has begun in many areas. One thing Sprint is keeping close to the vest however, is how much new WiMAX coverage will become available. It is not clear if WiMAX will immediately be turned on in areas where Sprint has not tapped into the backhaul of Clearwire’s network, or has sufficient resources. WiMAX simply may not be enabled network-wide ever. One thing Sprint is doing, is taking advantage of previously iDEN-only towers, and scrapping iDEN towers that will be redundant in this deployment.
The take-home message for CIOs all the way down to customer is; we’re suggesting you migrate away from that iDEN phone, be it on Boost or Sprint Nextel. iDEN customers clearly will have the most coverage impact that we have seen from source’s maps… and it isn’t a positive improvement at all.
CDMA will benefit, though the ESMR band previously used by iDEN will not be taken advantage of dramatically at first. Keep in mind, Nextel will need the ESMR frequency as long as it is active. For those with non-ESMR phones, and that’s most of you, that means you do not need to throw out your old device to get the best 3G coverage. An ESMR phone will only help in a few areas. Sprint will likely tap most of this bandwidth for LTE, so the primary benefit may lie in the long term; rural areas that see iDEN dismantled, but not WiMAX or LTE until fiber backhaul can arrive.
Sprint, this week, did drop the bombshell that LTE handsets will launch in the second half of 2012. However, this is mostly non-news that other drive-by colleagues in the mobile media simply didn’t realize was already known information. Sprint has said all along that LTE and Network Vision will be in consumers hands long before that date. It remains to be seen if Sprint will do an LTE mobile broadband trial in Q2, but this seems unlikely, as Sprint does not want to overcost hardware with tri-mode CDMA/WiMAX/LTE devices. This means that Sprint will wait until LTE coverage overlaps the vast majority of existing Sprint WiMAX coverage, and then launch CDMA/LTE mobile broadband devices.
In all, we chose to write this article based on information that actually is new, rather than regurgitate the “LTE is coming to Sprint in 2H2012” that everyone else has reported. We wrote this instead as a primer on what you’ll expect from Sprint over the next year in terms of real-world experience.
The take-home from this is that for most users, the device you have right now will work better in the years to come, be it CDMA or WiMAX. If you buy a WiMAX phone today, you can rest assured it will work better throughout its 2-year contract timeline, and likely well beyond that too. If you have an iDEN device, we suggest getting rid of it… pronto. Sprint may not like that we’re saying that, but we see the coverage drops coming for iDEN. It’s not Sprint’s fault; AT&T did the same thing to their GSM network upon the desperate need to provide 3G/4G coverage to their customers.