Countering claims by rivals, Sprint CFO Joe Euteneuer told investors at a conference this week that the carrier had plenty of capacity left in its network to handle continued support of unlimited data for smartphone customers.
Speaking at the Goldman Sachs investor conference, Euteneuer noted that Sprint’s recent acquisition of Clearwire provided the carrier with full control over Clearwire’s vast 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings that in many markets is in excess of 150 megahertz. That sort of “runway” will allow the carrier to continue supporting its unlimited smartphone data plans that the carrier recently updated to ensure customers lifetime access.
“So right now we feel very good about our positioning, having that spectrum with Clearwire is very valuable for us, given our portfolio spectrum versus the competition, so we’re going to leverage that,” Euteneuer explained.
Earlier this week, Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam told the same conference that supporting unlimited data services would cripple a carrier.
As for bolstering its network, Euteneuer said the carrier was still on track to cover around 200 million potential customers by year end with LTE services running across the carrier’s 1.9 GHz spectrum, and what he described as full network coverage with that spectrum by mid-2014.
Sprint is then set to begin layering in LTE services across its 800 MHz spectrum by early next year that will allow the carrier to tap into the greater propagation characteristics of that spectrum for in-building coverage. That spectrum was freed up by the de-commissioning of its iDEN operations and is currently being used to provide better coverage for CDMA voice services.
Also bolstering its network will be the deployment of the 2.5 GHz spectrum that is expected to be included on 5,000 towers by the end of the year, with plans to turn on 2.5 GHz spectrum support across Sprint’s 38,000 towers moving forward. That spectrum is set to provide additional capacity in dense markets, that along with Sprint’s continued use of Wi-Fi offload and increased use of small cells are set to support the carrier’s confidence in continuing to offer unlimited data services.
“Wi-Fi or off-load has been something that we’ve been working on for a while and it will continue to be an integral part of the deployment of the network,” Euteneuer said. “The more traffic we can push on Wi-Fi, the more efficient our network becomes. So it is clearly a part of the strategy and you will hear more about that as we sort of talk to you about the 2.5 deployment.”
While Sprint seems to have a substantial portfolio of spectrum across various bands, the carrier is still preparing to gather more through upcoming government spectrum auctions. Sprint is expected to be an aggressive player in the upcoming 1.9 GHz H-Block spectrum auction set for early next year as that spectrum resides next to its current G-Block holdings that are the basis of its initial LTE deployment. The carrier could see some intense competition in that auction from bidding rival Dish Network, which just happens to control the spectrum licenses on the other end of the H-Block.
Sprint also continues to look at the planned auction of 600 MHz spectrum licenses through the Federal Communications Commission’s planned incentive auction, though it has not yet signaled if it will participate in the bidding. That auction was the topic of conversation at last week’s Competitive Carriers Association event, with most CCA members citing the importance of that auction.
Another potential spectrum resource for Sprint continues to be in the form of a partnership of spectrum hosting, something that Euteneuer noted was core to its Network Vision initiative and evident in its eventually failed attempt to partner with LightSquared.
When asked about the potential for further consolidation across the domestic market, Euteneuer took a similar tone as previous speakers from rival carriers, noting that it would make sense for there to be three operators of similar size as opposed to the current market where two operators are each twice the size of their two smaller “rivals.”
iDEN impact continues
Euteneuer also touched on the expected churn impact from shuttering its iDEN operations at the end of the second quarter that Sprint expects to witness through the end of the year, noting the carrier was surprised that so many customers remained on that network until the very end. Leading up to the shuttering of that network, Sprint execs had been warning that there would be a number of iDEN customers staying loyal to that network until the signal stopped transmitting.
“The one thing that we didn’t anticipate though that there would be so many customers that just hung on until the last day and there were a number of dual account customers, so customers that were both iDEN customer alone with CDMA customers,” Euteneuer said. “And when you lose those, they typically not only take their iDEN business somewhere else but they take their CDMA business somewhere else.”
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