Sprint to Shut Down Nextel Network by June 2013

The decision to shutter the 2G network will help Sprint build out its 4G LTE system as part of the carrier’s Network Vision initiative.

Sprint will finally shut down its Nextel network by next summer, and will start transitioning its Nextel push-to-talk business and government customers onto its 3G Sprint Direct Connect network.

Spring officials announced May 29 that the carrier will begin sending out letters June 1 notifying those customers of the eventual shutdown of the iDEN Nextel National Network, and that they should either begin migrating to the Sprint Direct Connect network or looking for another carrier.

The 2G iDEN network will be shuttered by June 20, 2013, the officials said. Sprint executives first talked about shutting it down in 2010, saying then that it could take several years.

The move signals the final chapter in Sprint€™s $36 billion acquisition of Nextel, which had pulled together a 2G network and built up a customer base of millions with its push-to-talk devices. All that was attractive to Sprint, which bought Nextel in 2005. However, there were problems, including the fact that Nextel€™s iDEN technology was different from that of Sprint€™s, forcing the carrier to essentially manage and service two separate networks.

In addition, as carrier network speeds increased to 3G and, now, 4G, the Nextel 2G network seemed increasingly outdated. The push-to-talk devices have also reportedly become less attractive with the rise of smartphones.

Sprint has been planning the shutdown of the 2G Nextel network as part of its larger Network Vision initiative, a drive to simplify its network offerings and push forward with its plans for 4G Long-Term Evoluton (LTE). The strategy is designed to enable Sprint to run both its 3G CDMA and 4G technologies on a single network.

Sprint currently operates a 4G WiMax network with technology from Clearwire, but LTE has emerged as the dominant 4G technology, and getting rid of the Nextel 2G network will free up valuable spectrum upon which to build the LTE network.

The need for more spectrum has become a key concern in the wireless space, fueled by the rapid growth in the number of mobile devices in use, the skyrocketing amount of traffic running over the networks and growing amount of video that makes up that traffic. At the CTIA show in New Orleans earlier this month, much of the focus of the keynote address centered on the looming spectrum crunch, and the billions of dollars carriers are spending to upgrade their networks and make them more efficient.

Gaining the additional 800MhHz spectrum band will enable Sprint to keep up with the 4G LTE networks that rivals Verizon Wireless and AT&T are building out. Sprint€™s 4G LTE network is expected to launch this year on other spectrum bands, and growing out to include the 800MHz frequencies later.

Sprint officials already have been taking steps to phase out the Nextel network and get customers moved over to its 3G network. The carrier has stopped selling Nextel for consumers, and will transition business and government customers this year.

The company, which launched Sprint Direct Connect in October 2011, also has announced four ruggedized handsets that offer push-to-talk capabilities, including three from Kyocera and one from Motorola.