Sprint announced plans to deploy LTE-Advanced technology in 2013, indicating the company’s entry into the 4G race won’t end with its rollout of a regular LTE network next year.
Speaking at the 4G World conference in Chicago yesterday, Iyad Tarazi, Sprint’s vice president of network deployment and engineering, said the carrier expects to upgrade to faster LTE technology in the first half of 2013.
LTE-Advanced is a “true 4G” standard, according to the International Telecommunications Union, and Sprint expects its 4G devices to reach speeds of 12-15 Mbps after the upgrade, which are comparable to what Verizon subscribers get now on its leading, regular LTE network.
The Overland Park, Kan.-based company’s announcement speaks to its efforts to challenge competitors Verizon and AT&T in the race for the fastest network.
Verizon was the first carrier to launch 4G LTE, and its network is surpassing growth projections. The company expects to open up 13 more LTE markets next month, bringing its total to 178 and reaching 185 million U.S. residents by the end of the year.
AT&T plans to launch LTE service in five cities Sunday, and expects to add at least 15 more markets by the end of the year. The carrier’s acquisition of T-Mobile may gain spectrum to challenge Verizon’s 4G LTE domination, if it passes regulatory hurdles.
In contrast, Sprint is late to the starting line in the 4G race, but Tarazi assures the carrier will have more than 250 million subscribers under its LTE umbrella by 2013.
Theoretically, LTE-Advanced can support speeds up to one gigabyte per second when users are stationary and 100 megabytes per second when they are mobile, about 10-20 times faster than Verizon’s network. Many factors can bring down those speeds, though, including lack of spectrum.
Some may question whether Sprint’s spectrum has the capacity to support its ambitious LTE upgrade plans. It’s unclear whether the carrier’s tangled relationship with Clearwire, which has 4G designs but lacks the cash to realize them, can support LTE-Advanced speeds.
Sprint’s partnership with Lightsquared may also boost spectrum, but until Lightsquared clears up regulatory concerns over GPS interference, that deal is questionable as well.
Sprint’s investors, however, have already expressed concerns over the carrier’s cash outlays for potentially high-risk strategies, including acquiring rights to the iPhone 4S.
As Sprint opens its wallet once again to make its LTE-advanced plans a reality, it may need to convince investors and subscribers before the risk pays off.