Sprint, After a Transitional 2013, Is Ready for a Happier New Year

By Michelle Maisto  |  Print this article Print

In 2013 Sprint shut down iDEN; closed deals with Softbank, Clearwire and U.S. Cellular; and launched Spark. It's ready, it says, for a "dynamic" 2014.

Sprint, after a very transitional 2013, says the stage is now set for a "dynamic" 2014.

It expanded its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network into 70 additional markets, it announced Dec. 16, including Orlando, Fla., San Diego and St. Louis—bringing its LTE market total to 300.

It has also been launching Sprint Spark, a network capability that uses three spectrum frequencies (800MHz, 1.9GHz and 2.5GHz) to deliver super-fast speeds.

When Sprint launched Spark in its first five cities Oct. 30, it offered the example of downloading a 60-minute podcast, which it said customers could do in 10 minutes over 3G, 52 seconds over 4G and 7 seconds over Spark.

Sprint plans to extend Spark to 100 cities over the next three years. Currently, only a few phones, with tri-band functionality, can take advantage of Spark (the iPhone is not among them). The technology is expected to also improve call quality, as Sprint also rolls out HD Voice.

"In the growing number of markets where the upgrades are nearly complete, our customers are noticing," Bob Azzi, Sprint chief network officer, said in a statement.

"Re-engineering our entire network has been a big undertaking, but now it's delivering tangible benefits to our customers," he said. "With the announcement of Sprint Spark, the increasing availability of 4G LTE and the improvements we have made to our voice network, we're full speed ahead for 2014."

Sprint says all the construction dust it kicked up in 2013 was in the service of a full-speed-ahead 2014.

This past year Sprint sold a 78 percent stake in its business to Japanese carrier Softbank for $21.6 billion, a sum that enabled it to more aggressively expand its LTE network and move ahead with other initiatives.

It also acquired the approximately 50 percent share of 4G partner Clearwire it didn't already own, giving it the contiguous 2.5GHz spectrum it needed to launch Sprint Spark. It also acquired spectrum from U.S. Cellular, significantly increasing its capacity in the Midwest, particularly Chicago.

Lastly, though hardly least, it shut down its Nextel iDEN network—"ripped out" was a phrase it used over and over, suggesting the literal construction effort that was under way—and had to work aggressively to transition its iDEN customers to its LTE network, though many were lost to competitors.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said during an Oct. 30 third-quarter 2013 earnings call that he's been describing the point Sprint's at in its transition as "building the last little pig's brick house."

He added, "We're finally turning a corner on this massive project and seeing light at the end of the tunnel."

With its brick house in place, Sprint's next initiative may be a merger. The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 13 that Sprint is considering trying to buy T-Mobile, in a deal that could be valued at more than $20 billion. According to the report, Sprint is studying the regulatory concerns and may make a bid in the first half of 2014.

Originally published on www.eweek.com.