Sprint (News - Alert) may be the third largest carrier in the United States, but they're not planning to just take the rank lying down. They've got their eye on a large-scale expansion in the not too distant future, planning to boost the power of their LTE (News - Alert) network and make new markets available in 100 different cities over the next several months.
While Sprint's LTE service is currently available in 19 major metropolitan areas like Atlanta, San Antonio and both the Kansas and Missouri versions of Kansas City, Sprint plans to ramp that number up substantially and bring the service to several new markets in places like New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans and several more.
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Part of a larger overall initiative of Sprint's known as "Network Vision", the LTE expansion serves to help Sprint combine 3G and 4G technologies into one larger network that reduces the total number of cell sites and makes the overall network more efficient. This also serves to reduce roaming costs for subscribers, and reduce energy costs from there. Sprint even goes so far as to project that, over the course of seven years, Network Vision will save Sprint nearly $11 billion, with the deployment of Network Vision set to be complete by the closing days of 2013.
Considering that, by some reports, Sprint is about 10 months behind AT&T's (News - Alert) rollout, and a year and a half behind Verizon's, they have some catching up to do. Their plan to integrate the 3G network with the 4G is a reasonably smart one, though those outside the 4G network may well find themselves going with AT&T or Verizon's (News - Alert) capped network just for the sake of the speed improvements. Verizon's 4G access reaches about 75 percent of the U.S. population, and AT&T expects to have 4G service in 100 markets by the end of this year, with an eye toward a complete rollout by the end of 2013.
This is going to leave Sprint at a severe disadvantage; yes, they offer unlimited data access, which is very welcome, but they're likely going to be offering it at much slower speeds than their larger competitors. Worse, this expansion is going to do terrible things to Sprint's cash flow in the short term, leaving it less able to respond to emergencies. Whether the Network Vision program is too ambitious or not ambitious enough remains to be seen, but either way, it's quite clear that Sprint is out to make an impact on the market.
There are pluses to this approach, yes--more connectivity in more places on a more efficient network is a great thing--but will the disadvantages in speed loss compared to the competition leave Sprint able to compete? The differences will only be more pointed in areas where Verizon and AT&T offer 4G and Sprint is only offering 3G in the short term.
Just how this all pans out remains to be seen, and while Sprint's approach is certainly aggressive in its way, only time will truly tell if it's enough to make Sprint better off as a result.
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Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli