Sprint announced an ambitious blueprint to re-engineer its all-digital wireless network infrastructure. Dubbed Network Vision, Sprint’s aim if four-fold: to enhance service by improving quality and data speed, in-building coverage and coverage within its network footprint; creating network flexibility by ensuring “the most effective expansion of 4G;” reducing operating costs; and improving environmental sustainability by reducing carbon footprint and energy consumption, according to a news release.

Key to the plan is the deployment of multi-mode base stations capable of handling transmissions in the 800MHz, 1.9GHz and 2.5GHz and additional frequency bands. To that end, Sprint awarded contracts to Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Samsung for hardware, software, services. Each supply partner has been assigned a geographical region across which it will implement the blueprint.

Sprint expects to spend $4-$5 billion during deployment, which is expected to begin next year and take three to five years to complete. Management estimates the capital investment will yield $10-$11 billion over a seven-year period, the result of cost savings from capital efficiencies, reducing energy costs, lowering roaming expenses, backhaul savings, and the eventual reduction in total cell sites. In addition, higher network efficiency will reduce per-unit costs as demand for wireless data continues to increase.

“Improving the customer experience – business and consumer – is the motivating force behind these network improvements,” Sprint CEO Dan Hesse was quoted as saying. “We are very pleased with the results of our process which selected these three world-class partners. Each company realized the network proposal process was highly competitive, and each responded with innovative, cost-effective solutions.

“Network Vision builds on our legacy of wireless innovation and represents the next step in the evolution of our networks to best meet unprecedented growth in mobility services. We are well-positioned to take advantage of new technology, chipsets, devices and applications. Working with these three partners, we expect to deliver to our customers the most cutting-edge network capabilities available today and in the future.”

Also part of the blueprint is rolling out next-generation, broadband push-to-talk (PTT) technology and “integrating multi-mode chipsets into smartphones, tablets and other broadband devices, including machine-to-machine capabilities.” Sprint anticipates growing demand for “data-centric applications” on the part of PTT customers over time, pointing out that wireless data traffic exceeded voice traffic in the US for the first time this year, according to industry research. The company expects to roll out its next-generation PTT services on the CDMA network next year as Nextwork Vision is implemented. The move effectively ends the iDEN network Sprint absorbed from the infamous Nextel acquisition.

Carrying out Network Vision will result in spectrum efficiencies that will allow Sprint to “repurpose some of its 800MHz spectrum for CDMA service, thereby enhancing coverage, particularly the in-building experience for customers.” The 800MHz CDMA spectrum will augment the CDMA services Sprint offers on the 1.9GHz band, enhancing coverage density throughout the country, which means “fewer dropped calls and more seamless network experience,” according to the company.

“This is a very bold move,” commented Berge Ayvazian, a senior consultant at Heavy Reading. “Sprint was first with an all-digital wireless network; the first to upgrade to EVDO; and, more recently, the first to broadly offer 4G services. Sprint is once again first to deploy a common converged mobile network that will strengthen its 3G services; enhance its 4G technology options; and continue delivering the industry’s leading push-to-talk offering.”

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