Sprint 4G LTE Network Adding 100 Cities By Year's End

Sprint, days before what is likely to be the introduction of an LTE-equipped Apple iPhone 5, said it will expand its LTE network by 100 cities by the end of the year.

A Sprint rollout of 4G Long-Term Evolution services to an additional 100 cities within the carrier's 3G footprint is "under way," with completion expected before year's end, the carrier announced Sept. 10. The reminder that it is hustling to catch up to the LTE deployments of Verizon Wireless and AT&T comes two days before Apple is expected to introduce an iPhone 5 with LTE capabilities.

"We are committed to delivering a cutting-edge network as quickly as possible, one that provides a greater level of reliability and speed to our 3G and 4G customers, Bob Azzi, Sprint's senior vice president of Network, said in a statement.

Sprint currently offers LTE in 19 metropolitan areas. Its 100 new markets will include Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Indianapolis; Los Angeles, Memphis, Tenn.; Miami, Nashville, Tenn; New Orleans; New York; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C. The full list-from Aguadilla-Isabela-San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, to Yauco, Puerto Rico-is available on the Sprint Website.

While Sprint was the first major carrier to offer 4G, by way of WiMax technology, it was the last to offer LTE. By the end of 2013, however, Sprint plans to have its build-out completed. Along with the closure of its iDen network, its Network Vision initiative-as its network strategy is known-is the carrier's pressing priority.

"Sprint will likely free up [its refarmed 800MHz spectrum] by the end of 2013 allowing the operator to deploy additional LTE markets and gain on AT&T and Verizon's LTE networks," Technology Business Research analyst Eric Costa wrote in a July research note.

"Sprint lags behind AT&T and Verizon in terms of LTE, yet the top two operators have not yet secured a large LTE subscriber base, Costa wrote at the time, allowing Sprint an opportunity to gain LTE market share in [the second half of 2012]."

Although Sprint's coverage will remain limited until it reaches an expected 123 million people by the end of 2012, Costa went on, Sprint will still be able to benefit from its already-available LTE devices, "which come with increased data capabilities compared to CDMA [Code Division Multiple Access] devices," allowing it to increase its revenue data.

Indeed, Sprint says that customers with 4G-enabled devices may see LTE coverage in their areas before the networks are officially launched "and are welcome to use the network."

Sprint also lags behind AT&T and Verizon in its efforts to build up its iPhone base-a lucrative group of users and ones less likely than others to churn, according to reports from the carriers. But in this, too, it's gaining ground.

During the second quarter of this year, both AT&T and Verizon saw iPhone sales fall from first-quarter totals, and even Apple sold fewer iPhones than Wall Street expected, due to what Apple suggested was consumers delaying purchases, waiting for the launch of the iPhone 5. Sprint, however, managed to keep its iPhone sales consistent, selling approximately 1.5 million of the devices each quarter.

During Sprint's earnings call, CEO Dan Hesse reminded investors that offering the iPhone, despite the expenses that come with it, is the right thing to do.

"Early-life churn ... is better than on other smartphones, calls to care are significantly lower than on other devices, service and repair and returns are all lower than on other devices," Hesse said. "All the important early metrics tell us we made the right decision."