What does Sprint's partnership with LightSquared really mean for HTC EVO users?
When we reported yesterday on Sprint's announcement of a 15-year partnership with 4G LTE provider LightSquared, many readers were left wondering what this deal would mean for current owners of WiMAX devices, like the HTC EVO 4G, EVO 3D, and EVO View 4G. Will current EVO owners be left in the dust as a new and more robust Sprint LTE network takes off? Should we expect any new WiMAX markets to be announced in the future?
Sprint CEO Dan Hesse recently acknowledged that Sprint 4G expansion has come to an increasingly glaring halt, while competitors such as Verizon Wireless have been relentlessly building out their 4G LTE network at an amazingly quick pace. Speaking with reporters last week, he said, "We're going to come out with a great story this fall around 4G, and it'll all become clear." In other words, he is aware of the problem, and he knows that something must be done soon.
So what should we, as EVO owners, make of this announcement concerning LightSquared? First, it's important to remember several things:
- This deal will involve LightSquared paying Sprint about $9 billion in cash, as well as about $4.5 billion in LTE and satellite purchase credits. While Sprint is expected to use this money to begin building out a 4G LTE network on its existing infrastructure, part of the deal also involves granting LightSquared access to the Sprint 3G network. This means that part of the cash will most likely be used by Sprint to improve its existing 3G network, adding capacity and filling in coverage gaps. This will benefit HTC EVO users by improving existing 3G coverage.
- Sprint has never said that it would commit exclusively to either WiMAX or LTE going forward. While the future of Clearwire is unclear, they do offer Sprint the opportunity to use valuable spectrum that can increase bandwidth and capacity. I find it unlikely that Sprint would not take advantage of this as it goes forward with its Network Vision modernization plans. At the very least, they will continue to support their existing 4G WiMAX network for years to come. This means that existing WiMAX coverage is, most likely, not going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
- To lend more credence to the above point, remember that Sprint does have experience running separate, incompatible technologies side-by-side (think Sprint and Nextel). Additionally, Network Vision will only streamline this process, making it easier and more cost-effective for Sprint to have multiple technologies at the same base station. Even so, remember that once LightSquared has finished their LTE deployment in 2014, iDEN will mostly be a thing of the past, anyway. This will make it easier for Sprint to maintain a WiMAX network alongside an LTE network.
- To reiterate, LightSquared has announced that they do not expect to have their LTE network fully deployed until 2014, although they will begin building it out in 2012. This means that you really shouldn't worry about the "flavor" of 4G that the HTC EVO currently uses, as you will most likely be upgrading by the time Sprint's LTE network becomes usable.
- And while this final point is pure speculation on my part, I have a feeling that Sprint is carefully watching Verizon and its LTE upgrade program for the Motorola Xoom. I believe there is a great possibility that Sprint may implement a similar program, after LTE coverage becomes at least comparable to existing WiMAX coverage. This would create a viable solution for customers who are interested in "upgrading" to LTE but recently purchased a new WiMAX device, while allowing Sprint to continue selling current WiMAX devices. In other words, Sprint won't leave HTC EVO users in the dust – the EVO is, after all, their flagship device.
To recap, Sprint stands to gain a lot of cash from this deal, which can be used to improve its existing network. Additionally, Sprint has never announced any plans to kill its WiMAX network, and it has an established history of running incompatible networks side-by-side as to not leave anyone behind. Finally, by the time Sprint's LTE network is usable, it will already be time to upgrade to a new phone.
As it turns out, HTC EVO users don't have anything to worry about at this point and, as it seems, actually have a lot to gain.