Sep 27th, 2011

CNET says they’ve heard it on great authority (the whole “people familiar with the situation” spiel) that Sprint will be launching an LTE network early 2012. This is likely what Sprint is gearing up to announce sometime this fall as they did confirm major network announcements would be coming soon.

It’s a logical step forward for Sprint after the failed WiMax deployment, but the next hurdle they must get over after launching this LTE network is deciding how to handle customers with WiMax devices. There are many customers with WiMax-enabled smartphones from Sprint who aren’t in 4G coverage areas.

With the launch of an LTE network, we’d assume Sprint would abandon WiMax for their future phones. This doesn’t mean those with WiMax phones who are in 4G coverage areas suddenly won’t have 4G anymore, but it could mean Sprint will cease production of future WiMax devices and in-turn will not partner with Clearwire to provide more coverage than they already have.

Sprint is reportedly passing on Clearwire (who has plans to build out an LTE network despite the lack of funds and a lackluster WiMax network) and won’t be working with any other partners, including Lightsquared. Lightsquared was seen as first in line for providing Sprint customers a 4G LTE network as Sprint heavily invested in them, but reports instead suggest Sprint will be going the Verizon route and building out their own solution.

Earlier, I questioned whether or not the cost on consumers would be affected, but CNET reports that Sprint already has the capital for a large scale deployment set aside in their budget. It’s been a messy situation and Sprint’s hoping to get a fresh start with LTE.

But that question still remains – how does Sprint get their WiMax customers (most of whom will likely be tied into contracts as the LTE rollout begins) over to the new network?

Also, how will Sprint make it up to 4G customers who were promised WiMax coverage but have yet to see any progress since Clearwire nearly went bankrupt? For consumers, these will be the first questions in mind as Sprint looks to usher in a 4G network that looks to be defacto for carriers worldwide. [CNET]