Sprint could deploy LTE nationwide by year-end 2013

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Should Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) decide to deploy LTE as part of its Network Vision network modernization project, the company could have a live LTE network this year, with nationwide LTE coverage by year-end 2013, a senior Sprint executive said.

Speaking at a Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom conference Wednesday, Steve Elfman, Sprint's president of network operations and wholesale, said that the company will not make a decision regarding LTE deployment until mid-year. He added that if Sprint does decide to deploy LTE it could turn it on quickly and have LTE devices by 2012. Elfman added that the reason the company will not make a decision until mid-year is because Sprint wants to establish and announce a strategy that is still being determined by the company and its partner Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), which runs a mobile WiMAX network.

Elfman also discussed Network Vision, the $4 billion to $5 billion network modernization project that Sprint is undertaking over the next three to five years. Sprint currently runs an EV-DO network in the 1900 MHz PCS band, has a wholesale deal with Clearwire  to use WiMAX in the 2.5 GHz band and owns an iDEN network in the 800 MHz band. Sprint has said it will begin phasing out the iDEN network in 2013.

Elfman reiterated that the company plans to enhance its CDMA coverage in the 800 MHz to improve in-building coverage. In addition, he said that Sprint will deploy a CDMA-based push to talk solution from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and will have new PTT devices by the third quarter of this year that will use the enhanced PTT solution.

Regarding Sprint's relationship with Clearwire, Elfman said that Clearwire has been a good partner to Sprint and that the company is "in the middle of some positive negotiations with them."  In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse elaborated further on the negotiations by saying that while the company expects to resolve its ongoing wholesale pricing dispute with Clearwire, Sprint is prepared to go its own way if an agreement isn't reached.

"Our Plan A is together with Clearwire, but we do have a Plan B," Hesse told the publication. "If we don't reach agreement, we will go and do our own thing," Hesse said.

The two companies have been locked in a dispute over wholesale revenue sharing, and Clearwire has said that resolving the dispute is key to moving forward on securing new funding. Clearwire expects to announce a decision on new funding sometime in the second quarter.

For more:
- see this replay of the Morgan Stanley conference
- see this FierceBroadbandWireless article

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