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Ericsson’s role in Sprint Spark should not be underestimated

Longtime Sprint partner Ericsson will not be a supplier for Sprint Spark, the carrier’s upcoming TD-LTE network, but the telecom equipment giant will still have an important role to play. Ericsson will continue to manage Sprint’s entire network as part of a $5 billion deal the two companies made in 2009. Ericsson’s role as network manager may actually be one of the reasons that Sprint skipped over Ericsson when choosing vendors for Sprint Spark.

“Neutral party – whether or not that was the intent, that’s what you end up with here,” said analyst Peter Jarich of Current Analysis. Although equipment makers often manage and supply the same network, Jarich says the Sprint/Clearwire network is unique in that it includes equipment from every major vendor. “With Sprint and Clearwire there were tons of vendors,” he said. “Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei in Clearwire, Samsung was there, NSN, everyone was involved in some way. You can’t have a network with five different vendors or even four. Some have to fall out so you could almost see the logic of having the RAN vendors not include the guy who’s managing it.”

Sprint Spark is the next phase of the carrier’s Network Vision LTE rollout, announced in 2010. The equipment vendors for Network Vision are Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Samsung. For Sprint Spark, the vendors are Alcatel-Lucent, Samsung and NSN.

“The selection of NSN … was a surprise,” wrote Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar in a blog post. “NSN is not a radio access network (RAN) vendor on Sprint’s current network. NSN appears to have beat out Ericsson, the other major RAN supplier to Sprint, when it came to providing LTE TDD base stations.”

But Ericsson’s involvement with the Sprint network may outlast the Sprint Spark buildout. Its contract to manage Sprint’s network should run through 2016. Analysts say Ericsson is in a better position to profit from its managed network services business than are some of its competitors.

“It has been tough for everyone, but Ericsson has done better than most,” said Jarich. “I think to some extent it’s a scale issue,” he added, since Ericsson has bought a number of systems integrators over the years and now has talent in-house that other companies might need to outsource.

Ericsson is seen as the world leader in managed network services. Earlier this year the company announced that its managed networks now cover a billion subscribers, more than any carrier network.

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Martha DeGrasse
Martha DeGrasse
Martha DeGrasse is the publisher of Network Builder Reports ( At RCR, Martha authored more than 20 in-depth feature reports and more than 2,400 news articles. She also created the Mobile Minute and the 5 Things to Know Today series. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York and managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Martha is the board president of Austin's Trinity Center and is a member of the Women's Wireless Leadership Forum.

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