Sprint CFO: We're still open to spectrum hosting deals

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Sprint (NYSE:S) CFO Joe Euteneuer said the carrier remains open to using its multi-mode base stations to host another company's spectrum, provided such a deal was beneficial to both parties.

"I think we're still open to look at opportunities that make sense for both sides," he said during an appearance at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. Sprint struck an ill-fated spectrum hosting deal with LightSquared that was scrapped after LightSquared's conditional license to operate an LTE network was revoked by the FCC amid concerns about interference between the company's L-band airwaves and GPS receivers.

Some analysts have said that Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH), Sprint's erstwhile pursuer, could be a target for a spectrum-hosting deal. Dish controls 40 MHz of AWS-4 spectrum in the 2 GHz band and is also pursuing LightSquared's spectrum in bankruptcy court. Dish has even said Sprint could be a partner; Dish tried and failed to land both Sprint and Clearwire this spring. Japan's SoftBank wound up taking control of Sprint and Sprint bought Clearwire.

"I think in an ironic sort of way, Sprint becomes a really kind of an interesting potential partner for us as well, and I think people just assume maybe that, that's not the case," Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said on the company's second-quarter earnings conference call in August, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. "But the fact is, we actually understand Sprint and Clearwire probably better than we do any of the other wireless providers."

Euteneuer said that "in any type of joint venture arrangement it's going to an arm's length negotiation that has to work for both parties" and that such an arrangement would help get more spectrum deployed for mobile broadband, which he said the FCC would laud. "I would think they would view that positively," he said.

The Sprint finance chief also talked about Sprint's own Network Vision deployment. He said by the end of the year, Sprint aims to have LTE covering 200 million POPs via its 1900 MHz spectrum, and there will be around 5,000 Clearwire sites deployed using TD-LTE on 2.5 GHz spectrum. He said Sprint is evaluating vendors now to build out a nationwide TD-LTE network on the 2.5 GHz spectrum. Sprint plans to deploy Clearwire's 2.5 GHz spectrum on all 38,000 of its planned Network Vision cell sites and even more sites than that in a nationwide rollout starting next year.

Euteneuer did not say how many more sites will be needed to accomplish that, but said Sprint's engineering team is working through those calculations. He said the 2.5 GHz deployment will use both macrocells and small cells.

Adding in Clearwire's spectrum "gives us a lot more runway than we had before" to maintain Sprint's offer of unlimited smartphone data, he said. "Irrespective of having more runway, every day the team is focused on the profitability of unlimited," Euteneuer noted. He said Sprint feels "very good" about its position regarding unlimited data.

Earlier this week at the Goldman Sachs conference, executives from both T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) and Verizon Wireless spoke out against unlimited data services. T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert said unlimited data services attract low-quality customers, while Verizon Communications Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam said unlimited services can chew through network bandwidth.

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