Which Princess Will Kiss This ‘Leap’ Frog?
…and will it turn into a prince?
Sprint Nextel has initiated project leapfrog with Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson, and Samsung to upgrade its network to LTE while also removing iDEN base stations and fully utilizing its 800MHz spectrum. This three year project is designed to leave Sprint with a competitive, nationwide LTE network while reducing operating costs. Could leapfrog also include the integration of a partner’s network?
The evolution of Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (MIMO) antennas plus the new Multi-Mode base stations (BTS’s) that support both new spectrum and the new LTE technology provide opportunities for carriers to share cell site equipment in unprecedented ways. A combined MIMO antenna and Multimode BTS deployment could handle many combinations of spectrum and technologies spanning multiple carriers. While Sprint removes iDEN antennas and BTS’s, they could replace that equipment with another carrier’s equipment or even establish a full RAN share relationship. Of course American Tower, Crown Castle, SBA Networks, and the other tower companies will be watching these developments with concern.
Who are the likely partners for Sprint? There are persistent reports of M&A talks with T-Mobile. Don’t forget that Clearwire LLC is partially owned by Sprint and is the “official” 4G platform for Sprint. The 4G only wholesale plan of LightSquared could also be implemented at Sprint cell sites. Given the three year length of leapfrog, there is plenty of time for a new partner to emerge.
It will be interesting to see which carrier “princess” will agree to kiss this “leapfrog”. Proper use of the latest technology, diligent planning, and strong execution could turn this frog into a prince. The wireless consumers, vendors, and investors hope for a fairy tale ending to this story.