So! Sprint just made it official that they will be rolling out 4G LTE, and basically slowly backing away from their current 4G network, WiMax. What does that mean for you?
What's happening to Sprint's WiMAX network?
It will be expanding through 2012, and then it's slowly going to go away. By the end of 2012 WiMax will be covering 120 million people. That figure remains the same for 2013. No growth = death. It will be enveloped and eventually replaced by LTE. (In case you're wondering what WiMax and LTE are, read our explainer.)
What are they doing with LTE?
It's coming, and they're going all-in. LTE deployment will begin in mid-year 2012. The rollout will largely be completed by 2013. They plan to get through 2014 with their 1900MHz spectrum, and if the LightSquared deal goes through, then the 1600MHz spectrum will get them through 2015. It's sounding like Sprint will only use Clearwire's 2500MHz spectrum when they absolutely have to (which ain't gonna be good for Clearwire. Like, maybe deadly.). Sprint says that by the end of 2012, 123 million people will be covered by LTE, and by the end of 2013 that number will expand to 250 million. That's a lotta coverage.
What's up with iDEN? CDMA?
Sprint is planning on getting people migrated off iDEN technology by 2013, opting to replace it with CDMA push-to-talk, which will best the performance of iDEN and provide better coverage in buildings. They are gonna use Nextel's 800Mhz spectrum to further improve their CDMA coverage. The 800Mhz CDMA will be integrated into most Sprint devices launched in 2011 and all devices launched in 2012. They're calling the push-to-talk Android app a real "gamechanger" and they may expand the capabilities to other platforms. Think push-to-Facebook. Push-to-text. Push-to-iMessage on iOS? That's pure speculation, but it could happen.
When can I get an LTE phone who will make them?
The first 1900MHz LTE devices will be launched in mid-2012. Next year most of Sprint's high end-handsets will be CDMA/LTE products, and they'll be coming from the usual players (Samsung, HTC, LG), with Motorola likely leading the charge. LTE/CMDA/WiMAX mobile hotspots will be available, too, but no handset will have all three. I like the idea of a hotspot with all three of those radios. It should provide coverage pretty much wherever you are. It would also be ginormous. They're going to have some LTE/CDMA data cards in 2012, too. By the end of 2012 they'll have 15 handsets, plus tablets and modems, all on CDMA/LTE. There was some talk of HD voice over LTE, which I want to hear with my own ears, like, right now.
What's going to happen to my WiMAX phone?
WiMAX phones will continue to be made and sold throughout 2012, however we wouldn't recommend buying one. This technology is on its way out. Sprint vows to continue to support the technology for the next few years at least, so you'll probably be covered throughout the life of your phone if you bought one now or early next year, but LTE is just faster and it's only going to be expanding. You'll have faster coverage and in more places. But if you have a WiMAX phone right now, you won't be screwed or anything.
So there you have it. Sprint will be dropping approximately $10 billion dollars on their network over the next few years to switch to the same 4G technology being used by Verizon, AT&T and basically every other major carrier in the world. [Sprint, ThisIsMyNext and Sascha Segan]