Sprint executive credits Ericsson with company's ability to handle data traffic growth

DALLAS--Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) is able to handle the overwhelming uptick in mobile data traffic and keep providing its smartphones customers with unlimited broadband data service thanks to the company's network management deal with Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC).

Speaking at the PCIA 2011 Wireless Infrastructure Show in Dallas today, Sprint senior vice president of networks, Bob Azzi, told the crowd that the company was better equipped to respond to the network capacity demands of smartphone users and stay ahead of the growth curve because it had infrastructure giant Ericsson managing its network. "On my own, I would have had to find people and start a bunch of contracts," Azzi said. "Instead I had Ericsson's Managed Services Group as a supplemental workforce ... that allows us to leverage not just the 2,000 folks on Sprint's payroll but a 30,000 person team."

Azzi, however, wouldn't confirm rumors that Sprint is gearing up for the launch of the next-generation iPhone 5, or that the company is expecting even more surges in data traffic on its network from this launch. For the past few months, various reports have circulated that Sprint is planning to launch the iPhone and yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sprint had ordered a total of 30.5 million iPhones over the next four years for a total commitment of $20 billion.

Sprint is scheduled to detail its 4G network strategy at an investor conference in New York on Oct. 7. Apple is scheduled to unveil the next iPhone later today.

Azzi did confirm that Sprint is investing in its EV-DO network and even exploring EV-DO Advanced. "Within the Network Vision project is a reinvestment in 3G and EV-DO Advanced," Azzi said. "We believe that 3G capabilities for data and voice will be with us for quite a number of years."

Azzi added that he believes that Sprint's EV-DO network will be operational for at least the next 8 to 10 years, although he admitted that it's hard to predict the life-span of a network when technology moves so quickly.

It has been two years since Sprint Nextel signed a seven-year, $5 billion deal with Ericsson to have the infrastructure company manage the day-to-day operations of its network. Ericsson has over 100 similar network management contracts globally covering a total of 275 million subscribers. But Ericsson's deal with Sprint is a landmark because it was the first of its kind in North America. The region's Tier 1 wireless operators have traditionally eschewed relinquishing control of their network operations, which is regarded as both a strategic resource and source of brand identity.

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