Sprint to end iDEN service as soon as June 30, 2013

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) said it will shut down service on its 2G iDEN network as early as June 30, 2013. The sunset of Sprint's legacy Nextel network is part of the carrier's Network Vision network modernization plan. It also serves as a period to Sprint's $36 billion acquisition of Nextel in 2005.

Sprint said it will send written notices to iDEN business and government customers beginning June 1 regarding the shutdown, and will offer them a "smooth migration" to Sprint's Direct Connect CDMA push-to-talk service. The carrier said it will continue to send notices to its iDEN customers about the planned shutdown over the next year. Sprint said its CDMA voice and data services on its PowerSource devices (dual-mode iDEN and CDMA devices) will still be available.

The shutdown of the iDEN network, which Sprint has been discussing since late 2010, is one piece of its Network Vision upgrade, which centers on the deployment of new, multi-mode base stations. As part of the upgrade, Sprint plans to deploy LTE first in its 1900 MHz PCS spectrum and then later on the 800 MHz spectrum currently reserved for iDEN service. Sprint will also be upgrading its 3G network, reducing roaming and energy costs and deploying 1X Advanced voice services on its 800 MHz spectrum.

Sprint has already begun the process of decommissioning iDEN cell sites. Sprint expects to take 9,600 iDEN sites offline by the end of the third quarter. The company has said many of these are sites are no longer needed because they were added when Sprint had roughly 20 million total iDEN Nextel customers; Sprint now has fewer than 6 million iDEN customers. The rest of the iDEN sites will be decommissioned in 2013.

Last fall Sprint launched its CDMA Direct Connect service, powered by a new solution from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), as part of its plan to migrate iDEN customers to CDMA. Sprint said its new Direct Connect service, which rides on Sprint's 1900 MHz spectrum, offers improved in-building coverage and will triple the square-mile reach of its current iDEN-based PTT service. Specifically, Sprint said its new PTT offering will cover 2.7 million square miles and a population of 309 million (with the addition of 1XRTT and roaming coverage), up from the iDEN network's 908,370 square miles covering a population of 278 million. 

In addition to the iDEN announcement, Sprint also announced it entered into a new $1 billion credit facility with Deutsche Bank and a syndicate of other banks to finance equipment purchases from Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) for Network Vision. Ericsson, which manages Sprint's day-to-day network operations, is one of the carrier's Network Vision vendors, along with Alcatel-Lucent and Samsung. The Network vision project, which Sprint expects to largely complete by the end of 2013, will cost $4 billion to $5 billion in total.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Reuters article

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