Sprint outs Illinois town of Kankakee as an LTE market

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has played its cards close to the vest in detailing when exactly it will launch LTE service, but the carrier has confirmed that the small town of Kankakee, Ill., already has LTE service up and running.

Click here for more details on the LG Viper.

Sprint confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that the carrier's LTE towers are operating in Kankakee as well as several other markets, though the carrier declined to name the other markets. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said in January that the carrier will launch LTE service in 10 cities by mid-year, and so far Sprint has named six of its first LTE markets: Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio. Sprint is deploying LTE through its multi-year Network Vision project, which will cost between $4 billion and $5 billion.

Over the last few days, Sprint has been indicating it will launch its first LTE smartphones in the coming weeks. Sprint will launch its first LTE smartphone, the LG Viper, later this month for $100 with a two-year contract and $50 mail-in rebate card. The carrier will also launch the high-end HTC Evo 4G LTE sometime in the second quarter, with pre-orders beginning Monday, May 7. It will cost $199.99 with a two-year contract.

Kankakee, a town around 60 miles south of Chicago, may seem like an odd choice to be a testbed for Sprint's LTE network. According to 2010 data from the Census Bureau, Kankakee's population was 27,537, and the median income was $31,379, with 31 percent of residents living below the poverty level.

Sprint has confirmed that it will continue to offer unlimited smartphone data pricing when it switches to LTE, which could help set it apart from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), which will each have larger LTE networks than Sprint this year. Verizon's LTE network currently covers more than 200 million POPs, and Verizon plans to increase coverage to 260 million POPs by year-end. AT&T will boost its LTE network coverage from around 74 million POPs today to 150 million by year-end. Sprint has said it expects to cover 123 million POPs with LTE by the end of 2012, and 250 million POPs with LTE by the end of 2013. 

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

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