Sprint inks at least 10 deals to wholesale LTE capacity

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has signed deals with at least 10 wholesale customers to buy capacity from its forthcoming LTE network, according to a senior executive.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Matt Carter, president of Sprint Wholesale Solutions and New Ventures, did not identify the companies but noted that the deals are in place. "We have signed contracts on LTE," he said, adding that the number of deals is in the "double digits." Sprint spokesman John Votava confirmed to FierceWireless that Carter was referring to the number of customers Sprint has signed up to buy wholesale LTE access.

Carter said in November that Sprint has a goal of increasing the number of its total wholesale customers by 10 percent during the next year. Sprint currently has more than 100 wholesale customers. The news of Sprint signing up customers for its LTE network comes amid speculation that Sprint will soon end its network-hosting deal with LightSquared. LightSquared's plans to launch a wholesale LTE network were dashed last month by regulators.

Votava said it is Sprint's wholesale customers' decision as to whether they want to identify themselves as buying wholesale LTE capacity from Sprint, but that such announcements would probably not be forthcoming until Sprint launches its LTE service, which is expected by mid-year. Votava added that the strategy for attracting wholesale LTE customers is the same one that Sprint has employed for securing wholesale WiMAX customers to Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) network, and that it could potentially include a mix of carriers selling service directly to customers as well as enterprises.

Sprint's initial FDD LTE deployment will be in the G-Block of the 1900 MHz band, where Sprint has a nationwide 5X5 MHz block of spectrum. Sprint has said it will initially deploy LTE in up to 10 markets by mid-year and has already named six of them: Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio. The carrier plans to have 123 million LTE POPs covered by year-end and 250 million to 277 million POPs covered with LTE by the end of 2013.

Interestingly, in the interview with the Journal, Carter said that he is seeing more interest from overseas carriers that want to buy wholesale access so their customers can have a network to use in the United States. Carter said in November customers of an unnamed Chinese carrier can get Sprint's handsets and service under the Chinese company's brand when they stay in the United States for prolonged periods of time. Donald Tan, president of China Telecom Americas, told Bloomberg at the time that the telco will start selling wireless service in the United States under its own brand as an MVNO. Tan said that China Telecom, which uses the CDMA 2000 standard, is already in market trials with several potential wholesale partners, which he declined to name.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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