Ina Fried

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Sprint Details Plans to Sunset Old Nextel Network; Move Could Pave Way for LTE

Sprint on Wednesday offered more details on its plans to shift push-to-talk services to its mainstream CDMA-based network and shut down its old Nextel network in 2013.

The move is part of a planned transition, but it raises some interesting questions about what Sprint might do with the 800MHz spectrum that it will free up by shutting down the old iDEN network. Reports suggest the company already is planning to build an LTE network that would augment its current WiMax-based 4G network.

Verizon Wireless is already selling LTE service in a number of areas, with plans to expand nationwide. AT&T has announced plans to build an LTE network in addition to adding a speedier version of its existing network. T-Mobile has said it hopes to move to LTE eventually as well, though it currently lacks the spectrum to do so.

Sprint had the early lead in next-generation networks by going with WiMax, but many still expect the carrier to ultimately add an LTE network as well, something the company has hinted it may do, but has yet to publicly commit to doing.

Sprint didn’t reference LTE in any way in this week’s announcement, but said it will, in the fourth quarter of this year, start offering push-to-talk devices from Kyocera and Motorola Mobility that run on its CDMA network. Among the initial devices, Sprint said, will be an “ultra-rugged camera flip phone” as well as a touch-screen Android device with a full keyboard. More phones are planned for next year, it said.

The company is pitching its new Sprint Direct Connect network as a more powerful evolution of the push-to-talk network popularized by Nextel. Although Sprint may be able to offer more powerful devices, expanded coverage area and better in-building coverage, it will be a tough shift for some companies that have widely deployed phones and applications customized for the iDEN network.

Sprint said it will work with developers who have built applications specific to the Nextel network to bring them over to the new Direct Connect devices. Sprint also said that the new devices will interoperate with existing push-to-talk devices as well as mobile radios widely used by emergency services personnel and many businesses.

Although it hasn’t publicly outlined LTE plans, Sprint has talked about the ability of its planned network shifts to “enhance its 4G technology options.” Sprint first started outlining its network transition plans back in December, though with less detail and specificity.

The transition will also be costly for Sprint, which has said it expects to spend between $4 billion and $5 billion on the multiyear effort, though over a seven-year period it expects to save between $10 billion and $11 billion through lower energy costs, reduced roaming expenses and other efficiencies.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google