Sprint Supposedly Strikes Deal With Lightsquared To Deploy & Maintain 4G LTE Network for $20 Billion Across 15 Years


Can’t say we didn’t see it coming, folks. Bloomberg is reporting that Sprint and Lightsquared have reached an agreement to deploy 4G LTE on the now network over the next 15 years. The deal is said to be valued over $20 billion and will give Sprint a better shot at keeping up with competing networks in the long stretch.

Sprint originally went with Clearwire for their 4G needs, but that venture quickly went sour as Clearwire found themselves in depth and unable to fulfill their obligations. Sprint’s WiMax network deployed in 2008, but has since only managed to get 77 cities coverage with a majority of their network still in the dark.

In contrast, Verizon has been out rolling 4G LTE out since late 2010 an has already come close to surpassing Sprint with 74 new markets getting coverage. They were on track to surpass Sprint by Q3 2011, and on track to cover their entire coverage area with 4G speeds by the end of 2013. T-Mobile and AT&T also made considerable progress with their 4G networks, though before specifications changed, it was more accurate to describe their 4G as “enhanced 3G”.

Still, everyone’s future was looking bright in the race for mobile broadband and it looked like Sprint would be left in the dust. The fact that AT&T and T-Mobile are lobbying to get approved for a merger doesn’t help Sprint which would put them even further out of reach of leapfrogging one of the top two carriers for second place. (Verizon may have less subscribers than AT&T when all is said and done.)

Without a considerable 4G network to speak of, Sprint could eventually see themselves desperate for the group of subscribers who care more about speeds and a good network than they do about value. That crowd already dominates Verizon and AT&T’s airwaves so growth outlook would be modest, if not stagnant (or worse), if they are unable to keep up.

On the consumer end in the near-term, it remains to be seen what will happen with their current WiMax network. Sprint currently has four phones with WiMax radios on the market, with two more headed our way tomorrow – the HTC EVO 3D – and sometime this summer – the Motorola Photon 4G. They are also rumored to have at least two more coming sometime in the third quarter.

Sprint would make many customers unhappy if the shift from WiMax to LTE isn’t graceful. While we don’t believe they’ll shut that network down anytime soon, anything is a possibility. And with consumers who bought 4G phones and were promised to get compatible service in the near future, they’ll have to have a good strategy for a transition going forward. This won’t be an overnight transition, of course. In fact, it may be another year or two before we see anything substantial from this Lightsquared deal.

As for Lightsquared, they still have a couple of problems of their own, being burdened with the responsibility of making sure their LTE network doesn’t interfere with global satellites. Until they get this situated and prove to the FCC and other governing bodies that their network is harmless, they won’t be deploying much of anything. The first investigation’s results are due July 1st. [Bloomberg]

Quentyn Kennemer
The "Google Phone" sounded too awesome to pass up, so I bought a G1. The rest is history. And yes, I know my name isn't Wilson.

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  1. that is a good start for sprint, i hope they start rolling out the lte network sooner rather then later.

    1. They’ll probably get it out and working before AT&T does…heh…

  2. Wouldn’t it be funny if the “Nexus 4G” came out for Sprint LTE not Verizon, nor At&t LTE …

      1. YES

    1. I like Sprint but the problem I have with them getting the Nexus 3 is that if you happen to be on 3G then your stuck with 1mbps data. I hate AT&T’s price but at least their 3G is really fast. Verizon would be the worst carrier for me because of high prices and their super slow 3G. 

  3. Worst writing ever.
    And I hate when people start a sentence with “And”.

    1. Care to elaborate on what’s so bad about it?

      1. It’s poor form.

        I didn’t notice it the first time through, but looking back it was a pretty abrupt transition (I was more or less skimming the first time).

        1. I’m not writing a thesis paper here. It may be informal, but such usage is common in informal english these days. It’s not a big deal, really.

          1. @Quentyn I know you get this a lot, but you are getting paid to write. It is more important than ever that we use the written and spoken word correctly. It is getting so bad out there in cyberspace, it is becoming the norm and not the exception.

          2. It’s a blog post not the Wall Street Journal. 

          3. @ScottColbert:disqus That’s a terrible and overused excuse for [insert subject].  At it’s core this might be a blog, along with other sites like Engadget.

            However neither really are blogs.  They are news sites.  Like say…  Oh I don’t know…  A tiny Wall Street Journal…

            @quentyn:disqus I like you.  Actually I like the entire staff on this site, which in a world of personalities is shocking.  The point is I’m not trying to attack you.  Just making a observation.  Like I said, I didn’t even notice it the first time.

      2. sorry…
        “The fact that AT&T and T-Mobile are lobbying to get approved for a merger doesn’t help Sprint, which, although would still make them third place, would put them even further out of reach of leapfrogging one of the top two carriers for second place. (Verizon may have less subscribers than AT&T when all is said and done.)”

        “Sprint would make many customers unhappy if the shift from WiMax to LTE isn’t graceful.”

        1. I agree, the first quote could have been structured better, but was no less understandable. I don’t see anything wrong with the second.

    2. Seriously? You’re complaining about that?

      His blog post got the point across just fine. Jeez, you grammarians, get a life.

    3. Why dont you try commenting on what the story is about instead of trying to be a professor………… DORK!

  4. Anyone have a good article on how this satellite LTE is supposed to work is it direct to phone or beamed to towers spreading the service. If direct to phone sounds unreliable? Just a little fuzzy on how this will work?

    1. It’s a pretty smart solution to problem other carriers will/are facing.  It uses satellite backhaul at the tower and not at the phone.  The phone sees it as a standard LTE connection and doesn’t need special satellite hardware.

      One of the biggest problems carriers face with high speed data connectivity is not the tower coverage itself, but backhaul.  It’s (relatively) cheap to upgrade tower hardware/software to support a high speed network, but unless you’re in or near a metropolitan area you aren’t going to have the fiber backhaul to support the data for a tower or network of 4G towers.  With satellite backhaul you can 4G enable any tower in the country with a local satellite uplink.

  5. I’m hoping Sprint gets LTE rolling sooner then later. I’m leaving Verizon for them here soon. Verizon costs are just too much for me, and I want a Nexus or dual core device, and the droid x2 just isn’t what I’m looking for. Hopefully I won’t regret the move. 

  6. So it will be a year or two before they do anything more to improve their network… Bahahaha, the “now network” isnt.


      1. Engadget scorecard= Evo3D 7/10, Droid Charge 8/10. Take your overhyped gymmicky Evo3D on your TINY little network.
        As for tiered data, those a rumored prices. And, Sprint WILL go the same route one day. In any sense, I am grandfathered in, and will continue to enjoy my far larger and superior network for years to come.

      2. Who cares about tiered data? Have you seen the latest Neilson (sp?) report? It showed less than half of users even go over the average data usage per month (500 or so MB). Considering most plans start AT LEAST at 250 MB (normally higher though: such as 1 GB) I don’t think anyone really cares. Except the power users who tether on a daily basis. But those are the people who bring the average up. Learn the crap you speak of fool.

        1. Plenty of people care about tiered data.  Only people who come from dumb phones and don’t fully use their new smart phone don’t go over their limit.  My wife takes pictures and video with her Evo and uploads to facebook all the time and she used 1.2 gigs last month.  It adds up.  I use mine for things like Pandora all the time too – I was at 800 megs (actually low for me).  We pay so much less than our friends with similar phones and usage on other carriers – we could give our daughter a smartphone and still come out less.

          1. Your highest example was well belowed the lowest “rumored” tier on Verizon. For me, Sprint is a whopping $12 cheaper(before my discount that Sprint wouldnt give me, therefore, Sprint is more expensive for me). I didn’t know you could get a smartphone for $12…..

  7. I applaud sprint for making a move which had to be made the future will be big for sprint. All current device will be fine regardless of this future move and people should continue to purchase devices regardless. Sprint needed to decide and they did and with future devices like the iPhone in September as well as other devices within the next 6months people will continue to purchase the best devices on the now network…

    1. Yeah, keep buying their phones. And, sometime within the next 2 years, you will be able to buy another one, and actually see some competitive speeds.

      1. Do  you have Sprint NIsme?  I do, and an Evo 4G.  My phone is plenty fast – 9 meg down and 1 meg up.  Who cares about faster – this is fast enough for anything I want to do on my phone.  Besides, Sprint’s 4G is 2nd only to Verizon, and a good deal less money.  

        1. Its actually 3rd, behind Verizon, and Tmobile. Who cares about faster? I do, I like the fact that my downloads are up to 3 times faster than yours. BTW, for Sprint, your speeds are far above average. In fact, they are the highest I have heard about. Not to mention, the very small percentage of Sprint customers that actually have WiMax. The now network, where your speeds are stuck where they are now, for the next few years. IE, if you don’t have WiMAx now, you wont unless you move…

    2. You applaud Sprint for moving to LTE yet you bash Verizon for doing the same damn thing. Be a little less hypocritical next time.

  8. well hopefully the next batch of phones come with wimax & lte 4g capabilities if its even possible…… tho my contract is up in oct 2012 so hopefully their lte 4g phones will be out by then making my transition from one 4g to the next much simpler

  9. All you Sprint bashes need to get a grip.  Especially those on AT&T or T-Mobile.  your networks are inferior, sorry.  Sure, AT&T might have slightly better coverage (not so sure), but they don’t have ANY 4G yet.  Really, the only one who does is Verizon. Verizon also has the best cell coverage in the country.  Sprint and Verizon’s biggest problem is CDMA.  At least Sprint is making big changes.  Wimax is pretty good actually.  I don’t penalize them for that decision because at the time it seemed really smart… it isn’t their fault ClearWire turned to $***.  They asked their customers (image that) if they though LTE was the way to go… we said yes, and this is the result.  Another issue Sprint faced was Global travel.  Starting with the Photon 4G that problem starts to solve itself.  They’re also looking into ways to convert to or add GSM to their offerings (their attempt to purchase T-Mobile is a case in point).  All that work/change and they still are the cheapest of the major carriers.  What is YOUR carrier doing for YOU?  They’re becoming more restrictive and constantly finding ways to charge you more.  No thanks.  I’d choose Sprint just on ethics alone.

    1. You probably wouldnt feel that way, if you were one of the majority of Sprint customers who are still waiting on WiMax. It was promised a LONG time ago, only to be told to F*&^ off, you are not getting it. BTW, my cell bill went down in January(smartphones talk free, saved me $30/month), and I get a 22% discount that Sprint would not give me..

  10. Well for starters who really cares about position. This is racing so no bonus points towards a championship for being first or leading for any amount of time.

    Speeds aren’t the fastest on Sprint but on 3g I blast the 3g iPhone and compete very well with AT&T Androids. The iPhone 4 is all phone not carrier. On that matter I got Flash and Have so Apple can assume position even if they come to Sprint. For 4G I personally don’t care when they get it to me. I have 3 pc’s at home and Wi-fi almost everywhere so I doubt 4G will beat speed when I want it. For those who want to compare plans show me yours and i’ll show you mine. Rather let me ahow anyways. 2 smartphones with UNLIMITED everything except landlines for 129 monthly. Yes you can drop how Mich you are allowed and beat the price elsewhere but you do so while I give up nothing. Also take you loses and add tethering and see how much you use. Nice to know I can tether to my laptop and allow my kids to play all day and not go over my data plan. Try it and see what you pay.

  11. “Clearwire found themselves in depth” is this suppose to be debt?

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