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Report: Sprint's LTE network is as fast as its competitors

Carrier adds 1xRTT to PTT Direct Connect
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Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) LTE network in Atlanta delivered downlink speeds comparable to  AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) LTE network and Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) LTE network, when using 5 MHz channels of spectrum, according to tests conducted by PC Magazine.

While Sprint is using 5x5 blocks of 1900 MHz PCS spectrum for LTE, both Verizon and AT&T are launching LTE in the 700 MHz spectrum with mostly 10x10 MHz blocks of spectrum (AT&T uses 5 MHz channels in Charlotte, N.C.;  Chicago; Los Angeles; and Raleigh, N.C.). The report noted, however, that Sprint's speeds don't quite match AT&T and Verizon in cities where they use 10 MHz channels. Both Verizon and AT&T promise average downlink speeds of 5-12 Mbps.

PC Magazine conducted its speed tests at five locations in the Atlanta area during the week of June 11. The magazine used a specially provisioned LG Viper 4G LTE phone outfitted with both the Sensorly speed test app and the Ookla Speedtest.net app. Using the Sensorly app at four of the locations, the testers produced average downlink speeds between 9 Mbps and 13 Mbps, which PC Magazine said is similar to the speeds in AT&T's two 5 MHz channel cities but slower than in its 10 MHz channel cities. Sprint's peak download speeds hit 26.5 Mbps, the report said.

Sprint is planning to launch LTE in Atlanta; Baltimore; Houston; Dallas; Kansas City; and San Antonio, Texas. The company has said it plans to cover 123 million POPs with LTE by year-end, and 250 million POPs with LTE by the end of 2013.  Verizon's LTE network covers two-thirds of the U.S. population and the company plans to cover 260 million POPs with LTE by year-end. AT&T's LTE network now covers more than 74 million POPs and AT&T expects to cover around 150 million POPs by year-end.

In other news, Sprint said its new CDMA Direct Connect service has three times more coverage than its Nextel iDEN network because it added roaming support for its 1xRTT network. The CDMA Direct Connect service, powered by a new solution from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), was previously only available on Sprint's EV-DO network.

Sprint said its customers will experience the same instant connectivity when a push-to-talk call has been established, but the initial call setup time will increase slightly if a user is in a 1xRTT area or roaming. Some customers with existing Sprint Direct Connect devices will need to receive a software update to enable the new coverage capabilities.

Sprint last month said it will decommission 9,600 iDEN sites by the end of the third quarter, and will turn off its iDEN network as soon as June 30, 2013. The shutdown of the iDEN network, which Sprint has been discussing since late 2010, is part of its Network Vision upgrade, which centers on the deployment of new, multi-mode base stations as well as the deployment of LTE.

For more:
- see this PC Magazine article
- see this release
- see this GigaOM article

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