Sprint turns iDEN shutdown into massive recycling project

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) said the shutdown of its Nextel iDEN network to make room for LTE will result in more than 100 million pounds of unused network gear and other materials, much of which the carrier hopes to recycle or reuse.

Sprint has been deploying FDD-LTE using 1900 MHz Band 25 spectrum, where it holds two 5 MHz channels in the G band adjacent to PCS spectrum. The carrier's Band 26 800 MHz spectrum is currently used for CDMA as well as end-of-life iDEN service. Sprint will gain another two 5 MHz channels for LTE once it shutters its iDEN network on June 30 and repurposes that 800 MHz spectrum for LTE.

According to Sprint, its last full day of iDEN service will be June 29. The network shutdown will begin June 30, and iDEN devices will cease receiving all data and voice services, including 911 emergency calling. Sprint said it will close switch locations "in rapid succession on June 30," after which equipment will be powered down and backhaul at each cell site will be eliminated.

Tens of thousands of iDEN cell sites will be deconstructed and taken off air. Sites where CDMA and LTE equipment are colocated will be left intact, minus the iDEN gear, said Sprint.

The 100 million pounds of leftover iDEN network gear and other materials that will result from the shutdown includes cables, batteries, radios, server racks, antennas, air conditioners and other equipment, much of which is being staged for recycling vendors. Most concrete shelters housing iDEN cell sites will be crushed and turned into composite for roads and bridges, said Sprint.

The iDEN recycling project is expected to continue into early 2014.

"Recycling a nationwide wireless network is a huge undertaking, but one that we're committed to," said Bob Azzi, senior vice president-network. "The company has earned a reputation for environmental stewardship.The iDEN recycling effort extends our commitment."

Sprint's LTE footprint reached 88 total markets at the end of April.

Rival operator AT&T's (NYSE:T) announced this week that it launched 22 new LTE markets, bringing its LTE reach to 261 U.S. markets.

AT&T's new markets include Blytheville, Texarkana, Forrest City and Batesville, Ark.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Clewiston, Fla.; Pocatello, Blackfoot, Idaho Falls and Rexburg, Idaho; Fort Wayne, Columbus and Seymour, Ind.; Muskegon, Mich.; Vineland, NJ; Farmington, NM; Wooster, Ohio; Miami, Okla.; Williamsport, Pa.; Heber, Utah; plus Spokane and Olympia, Wash.

The operator said last week that its LTE coverage now blankets 200 million people. AT&T expects to cover 300 million people with LTE by year-end 2013.

However, market leader Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) is still the LTE coverage king. As of mid-May Verizon said it was offering LTE in 497 markets.

For more:
- see this Sprint release and this release
- see this CNET article

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