Sprint to add 700 MHz Band 12 capabilities to some new devices starting next year

SAN ANTONIO, Texas--Sprint (NYSE:S) announced new partnerships with the Competitive Carriers Association and the NetAmerica Alliance that the carrier hopes will encourage rural wireless carriers to build LTE networks that Sprint's customers will be able to roam onto. Importantly, Sprint said it will add 700 MHz Band 12 capabilities to some of its devices starting next year--spectrum that the carrier itself doesn't own.

Sprint hopes the new partnerships, and its plan to support 700 MHz Band 12, will ultimately expand its LTE network to new locations, potentially making it comparable in size to AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless' respective LTE networks. Sprint expects to cover around 250 million people with LTE by the middle of this year--Verizon currently covers more than 300 million people with LTE, and AT&T plans to do so too by the end of this year.

"Our customers have a need for a national footprint," said Stephen Bye, Sprint's CTO. "We see this as an enablement."

Under Sprint's new partnership with the CCA, Sprint will use CCA's data hub to allow CCA members to ink reciprocal roaming agreements with Sprint. Sprint and U.S. Cellular have already conducted successful roaming tests with CCA's data roaming hub. (For more: see this story.)

With the NetAmerica Alliance, Sprint will launch a Smart Market Alliance for Rural Transformation program that Sprint said will give NetAmerica members the ability to access Sprint's network and to build new networks in partnership with Sprint. Interestingly, Sprint said it will license its unused 800 MHz and 1900 MHz spectrum to NetAmerica members that wish to build LTE networks on the spectrum. Smaller carriers that agree to build LTE networks through the program can make use of Sprint's core and its Network Vision architecture.

"Technologically, it's an extension of the Sprint network," explained Roger Hutton, chairman and CEO of NetAmerica.

As for Sprint's devices, the carrier said it would add 700 MHz Band 12 to some--but not all--of its devices, starting in January of next year. A number of other wireless carriers like T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), C Spire Wireless and U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) own 700 MHz Band 12 spectrum. Further, AT&T Mobility has agreed to support 700 MHz Band 12 as part of the FCC's 700 MHz interoperability agreement announced last year. Sprint's support for 700 MHz Band 12 is notable because Sprint doesn't own any 700 MHz spectrum.

Sprint's new initiative is similar to Verizon Wireless' LTE Rural America program, which the carrier established in 2010 in order to accelerate its LTE network buildout in rural areas. Under Verizon's program, rural carriers can lease Verizon's 700 MHz spectrum and use it to build out an LTE network. More than 20 operators have signed on to Verizon's LTE Rural America (LRA) program.

However, CCA President Steve Berry said that Sprint's new program is more flexible than Verizon's LRA effort. He said carriers that choose to work with Sprint can either use Sprint's spectrum or their own spectrum, and they don't necessarily have to use Sprint's core network.

Hutton said that 10 carriers have voiced support for Sprint's program. However, Sprint did not announce any specific wireless carriers that will participate in its program. Further, although T-Mobile is a member of CCA's data hub, the carrier was not a part of Sprint's LTE roaming announcement.

CCA's Berry said there is pent up demand among the association's members for a program like Sprint's. He said that "a lot of these carriers have the money, they're ready to grow." He added: "There's something in this for every carrier." Sprint's Bye agreed that the membership of CCA and NetAmerica was complementary to Sprint's own, existing wireless network footprint.

For more:
- see this release

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