Sprint dumps WiMAX, plans LTE network launch by 2013

Sprint just can’t get enough variety when it comes wireless technology, spectrum and network equipment. The carrier’s history of banding together disparate, incompatible technologies is repeating itself barely six years after it merged with Nextel. Then it was iDEN and CDMA, now it’s WiMAX and LTE.

Today the company announced plans for an aggressive LTE network build that will bring a new 4G service to its customers in some initial markets next year and nationwide by 2013.

Sprint is late to the LTE party, but it’s jumping in head first as it tries to play catch up with the likes of AT&T and Verizon. The carrier committed itself to WiMAX more than five years ago and ever since then has been forging a completely different path from its competitors — standing all alone as the determined, if not stubborn, LTE holdout.

By all measures, the long-suffering company is finally throwing in the towel on its complex and sordid relationship with WiMAX and Clearwire. But it will come at another heavy cost, especially considering Sprint owns 54% of Clearwire.

Sprint’s LTE network will be deployed on 800 and 1900 MHz spectrum owned by Sprint, but it also has contingency plans to use some bandwidth in the 1600 MHz band hosted by LightSquared and wholesale 2500 MHz from Clearwire as a last option. LightSquared has pledged as much as 50 percent of its capacity to Sprint, but the new wholesale provider is still waiting for approval from the Federal Communications Commission. Nonetheless, Sprint vowed to release at least 15 LTE-compatible devices next year and cover a population of 250 million people in the United States in 2013.

Sprint will stop selling WiMAX devices by 2013 and said it will continue to support its WiMAX customers, but it’s making no promises beyond that.