Sprint launches LTE, promises average speeds of 6-8 Mbps

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Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) officially launched its LTE network Sunday, becoming the third Tier 1 carrier to offer LTE service and beginning its efforts to catch up with larger rivals Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) in LTE device selection and coverage.

Sprint LTE video

Click here for Sprint's video introducing LTE.

As the carrier had promised, Sprint turned on LTE service in five major metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio. Sprint also detailed the smaller markets around those areas that now have LTE coverage. The full list includes: Atlanta, Athens, Calhoun, Carrollton, Newnan and Rome, Ga.; Dallas, Fort Worth, Granbury-Hood County, Houston, Huntsville, San Antonio and Waco, Texas; Kansas City, in both Missouri and Kansas; and St. Joseph, Mo.

Sprint said it will announce more LTE markets later this year. Baltimore is likely to be one of those markets since it was one of the markets Sprint originally announced.

Coverage will be a key issue for Sprint as it tries to keep pace with Verizon and AT&T. Sprint expects 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, which launched in December 20120, 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, which launched in September 2011, now covers more than 74 million POPs and AT&T expects to cover around 150 million POPs by year-end.

So far Sprint has announced five LTE devices, including the HTC Evo 4G LTE, LG Viper, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Samsung Galaxy S III and a Sierra Wireless Tri-Fi Hotspot, which supports Sprint's LTE and EV-DO networks and Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) mobile WiMAX network. Sprint is maintaining its unlimited data plans for smartphones on its LTE network, and its Everything Data plan starts at $79.99 per month for smartphone users.

Sprint spokeswoman Kathleen Dunleavy said customers can expect real-world average downlink speeds of 6-8 Mbps with peak speeds of up to 25 Mbps, and average uplink speeds of 2-3 Mbps. In the past, Sprint executives have said the company's LTE network will deliver speeds comparable to those of Verizon and AT&T, which advertise average downlink speeds of 5-12 Mbps and uplink speeds of 2-5 Mbps.

The LTE deployment is one piece of Sprint's larger Network Vision network modernization plan. The plan, centered around new multi-mode base stations, includes the improvement of Sprint's CDMA EV-DO network as well as the shutdown of Sprint's iDEN network and the introduction of a new CDMA push-to-talk service.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Kansas City Star article
- see this Kansas City Business Journal article

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