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2011 Predictions: Sprint becomes the newest LTE operator


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This is the time of the year that anyone with an email distribution list makes their predictions. Well, I have opinions. And I have a newsletter distribution list. Iím no better than the rest. With that said, here are three predictions for 2011.

1) Sprint (NYSE:S) at least will trial long-term evolution (LTE) next year, using its own networks and own spectrum. The Network Vision announcement Monday was a dead giveaway. As Sprint replaces its legacy CDMA-only infrastructure with next-generation multi-mode gear, it will be free to reconfigure those networks to whatever technologies it chooses. Assuming Sprint uses the latest generation of CDMA 1X technology, it will be able to shove four times as many conversations on a single 1X carrier as it has in the past. If it can cram eight old 1X carriers into two new ones, it suddenly has the 20 MHz necessary to offer an LTE service on par with Verizonís (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD). Sprint will start shutting down iDEN markets in 2013, but that doesnít mean it canít start clearing out spectrum in the 800 MHz band sooner (Nextelís customer base isnít exactly growing). If it can free up enough frequencies, Sprint could start deploying LTE in some markets at 800 MHz, which shares much of the same propagation advantages as the 700 MHz being used by VZW and AT&T (NYSE:T)

2) AT&T will start calling its 3G network 4G. Once the high-speed packet access plus (HSPA+) and backhaul upgrades are complete, AT&T will take its cue from T-Mobile (NYSE:DT) and market the service under the Ď4Gí banner. 4G long ago ceased having any technical meaning. Itís evolved into a marketing term signifying fast mobile broadband. Sprint and Verizon wonít like it, but AT&T will figure as long as itís network can support comparable speeds, itís free to use the 4G moniker. The question is what it calls its LTE network when it launches late next year.

3) Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will announce an iPhone deal with Verizon Wireless. I know Iíve written on numerous occasions that a CDMA iPhone isnít in the stars, but this wonít be a CDMA iPhone. It will be an LTE iPhone with a CDMA chip. Same difference, you might say. But I would argue the generational shift has huge consequences. The huge economies of scale Apple realized with its global GSM-HSPA iPhones simply wonít be available for LTE. Different countries are using different 4G frequencies and different bandwidth configurations. Thereís also a huge gap between when carriers in different countries will roll out their first LTE services. Like it or not, Apple will have to configure different iPhones for different markets. As for timing, if Apple wants to get in on the 4G revolution, it has to play ball with Verizon, which will have the only sizable U.S. LTE network for at least two years. I doubt the components and the supply chain will be in place to meet Appleís usual June launch date for new iPhones, but that doesnít mean the two of them wonít milk any deal they strike for maximum impact.

And with that, I bid you a happy holidays. Iíll be checking back in with you next year.


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