Sprint pushes back Network Vision completion date to mid-2014

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Sprint (NYSE:S) plans to finish its deployment of its Network Vision network equipment by the middle of 2014, later than it had previously indicated, according to a securities filing.

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Sprint said "further deployments of Network Vision technology, including LTE market launches and enhancements of our 3G technology, are expected to continue through the middle of 2014."

The carrier has never given an exact date for when it would finish its Network Vision deployment on 38,000 cell sites, but previously executives have indicated that most of the work would be done by late 2013 or early 2014. Sprint began Network Vision in early 2012, and the project has involved the deployment of multi-mode base stations, the (now-completed) shutdown of its Nextel iDEN network, refarming of spectrum, improving CDMA coverage and the deployment of LTE, among other things.

"We expect this to be an important year for Sprint with the Nextel network shutting down and the modernization of the network expected to be substantially complete by the end of the year," Steve Elfman, president of network operations at Sprint, said when discussing Sprint's first-quarter results in late April, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

"We have always said we would be substantially wrapped up at the end of the year and have some deployment into 2014," Sprint spokeswoman Kelly Schlageter told FierceWireless.

During the company's second-quarter earnings conference call, Elfman said Sprint had made solid progress on the Network Vision program during the quarter, including the shutdown of the iDEN network. There are now more than 20,000 Network Vision sites on the air, compared to more than 13,500 Sprint reported with its first-quarter results. The company said it now counts 30,000 sites that are ready for construction, are in the midst of construction or are already finished. Sprint also said it remains on track to cover 200 million POPs with LTE by year-end.

The company plans to begin deploying LTE on its refarmed 800 MHz spectrum in the late third quarter and Elfman said Sprint will be deploying 800 MHz LTE throughout next year.

Sprint also announced plans to deploy Clearwire's 2.5 GHz spectrum on all 38,000 of its planned Network Vision sites and even more sites than that in a nationwide rollout. Previously, Sprint had said it would use Clearwire's spectrum as a "hotspot" LTE network to offload traffic in urban markets. That additional work could be a factor in pushing out Sprint's Network Vision timetable.

Sprint has been racing to build out its LTE network to catch up with larger rivals. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) now covers 301 million POPs with LTE. By the end of the year, AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) plans to cover 270 million POPs with LTE and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) plans to cover at least 200 million POPs with LTE.

Interestingly, in the filing Sprint also said it has been "experiencing increased data usage driven by more subscribers on the Sprint platform and a continuing shift in our subscriber base to smartphones, which has required additional capital expenditures of legacy 3G Sprint platform equipment (legacy equipment). As we deploy Network Vision, we intend to maximize the use of previously deployed legacy equipment when possible; however, based on our capacity needs during the implementation period of Network Vision, we expect additional legacy equipment expenditures that will not be utilized beyond the final deployment of Network Vision's multi-mode technology, which is expected to continue through the middle of 2014."

Schlageter said that Sprint's increased 3G data usage "are consistent with the industry and we have seen a jump in data usage nationwide over the past couple of years and have been adding capacity. Of course, as we stand up [Network Vision] in a market, we scale back capacity adds on the legacy network." Sprint has made its unlimited data service a cornerstone of its marketing message.

For more:
- see this SEC filing

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