Hesse: Sprint eventually will shut down iDEN

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Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) CEO Dan Hesse said the carrier eventually will turn off service on its iDEN network, which it acquired via its purchase of Nextel in 2004. Hesse said there is no firm date for the shutdown, and explained it will be a gradual process.

Sprint ceo dan hesseIn an interview with FierceWireless, Hesse said that over time Sprint will shut down both of its 2G networks, "just like 1G was shut down." Sprint operates CDMA and iDEN networks.

Hesse said Sprint is spending less money and putting less focus on attracting new customers to the iDEN network,  "and as customers go onto the CDMA network rather than the iDEN network, it will free up some channels" to put CDMA services onto Sprint's 800 MHz iDEN spectrum.

"Over time, we'll have fewer and fewer customers on the iDEN network," he said. "That allows us to use some of that capacity on the network that is freed up and use it for CDMA. It's a gradual process. There will be an end date for all 2G, just like there was an end date for 1G."

Bob Azzi, senior vice president of networks at Sprint, told BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk in September that one possible outcome of the company's network modernization project could be that Sprint replaces iDEN with CDMA 1X Advanced on its 800 MHz spectrum and use it for voice services. Hesse said Sprint hopes to name its network modernization vendors by year-end.

Hesse also touched on Sprint's 4G plans. The carrier holds a 54 percent take in Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) and resells its mobile WiMAX service under the Sprint 4G brand. During the company's earnings conference call, Hesse said Sprint has alternatives to Clearwire. In his interview with FierceWireless, Hesse declined to discuss those alternatives, and said Sprint's current plan is to maintain its relationship with Clearwire as Clearwire expands into more markets.

"So that is plan A," he said. "All I'm saying is that we do have a plan B."

As part of Sprint's network modernization project, which Hesse said will take three to four years to complete, Sprint plans to deploy a new multi-mode base station that will give it the flexibility to add LTE services. Hesse said that will give Sprint the option of moving to LTE--whether Clearwire is the centerpiece of its 4G strategy or not. He said Clearwire's TDD 2.5 GHz spectrum is ideal for WiMAX, but that Sprint could potentially use lower spectrum bands for FDD-LTE service in addition to offering WiMAX. Hesse cautioned that Sprint has not chosen to do that, but theoretically could.

For more:
- see this article on Sprint's third quarter

Related Articles:
Rumor Mill: Sprint testing FDD-LTE in 2011
Sprint: Network upgrade will help migrate iDEN customers to CDMA

Sprint may add LTE to 4G arsenal
Sprint assessing final bids for network modernization endeavor
Clearwire details results of initial LTE testing

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