updated 01:20 pm EST, Mon December 6, 2010
Sprint Network Vision unifies 3G and 4G sites
Sprint today unveiled a major new plan to upgrade its network and simplify it at the same time. Nicknamed Network Vision, it will replace the separate sites for 3G and 4G with single, multi-mode sites that provide CDMA, EVDO and WiMAX from a single point. The switch should reduce the amount of extra cell sites Sprint needs to run but also improve coverage by letting it put 4G on existing points.
The upgrade will also have the upside of reducing Sprint's costs by as much as $11 billion. It should save the trouble of locating separate space for 4G sites, share more of the existing network and cut back on the number of times users end up on roaming access for 3G. While WiMAX is the focus, it will improve CDMA at the same time since previous WiMAX-only access points should get regular phone service and cut back on coverage gaps.
As part of the move, however, Sprint said it would eventually phase out its push-to-talk iDEN network. The instant call feature would reach the CDMA network next year and should eventually take over. iDEN will phase out starting from 2013.
It's not certain what effect this will have on Clearwire, whose financial struggle has made it difficult for the company to build on its own. Clearwire may not have the option of building WiMAX points separately and may have to depend more directly on Sprint to expand its own 4G network.