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Sprint streamlines Network Vision rollout with new Crown Castle deal


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Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Crown Castle managed 170,000 U.S. tower sites. While Crown Castle does track 170,000 sites in its database, it owns and manages only 22,000 of them.

As Sprint guts it CDMA and iDEN networks, replacing them with its new technology-agnostic Network Vision infrastructure, it will need to renegotiate thousands of tower contracts. Today, it revealed a new strategy to alleviate that burden. It’s penned a deal with tower infrastructure provider Crown Castle to streamline the site acquisition process across the latter’s 22,000 owned and managed properties.

Under the new deal, Sprint will basically negotiate site leases in bulk for its 10,000 Crown Castle-manegd towers, allowing it to implement its Network Vision rollout in large-scale stages rather than on a site-by-site basis. The deal also gives Sprint more flexibility to phase out old networks as the new ones go online. The Network Vision architecture--supplied by Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, and Samsung—replaces the old Nortel, Lucent and Motorola CDMA base stations and the Motorola-supplied iDEN equipment with new frequency-and radio-agnostic gear. Essentially Sprint is deploying a set of radio baseband resources, over which it can deploy CDMA and its future 4G technologies—whether they be WiMAX or long-term evolution (LTE)—in any configuration and in any band (CP: Sprint lays out vague path to LTE with $5B network modernization).

Sprint hasn’t publically committed to LTE just yet, but it is expected to announce this summer—possibly as soon as tomorrow during its earnings call—network sharing deals with LightSquared and Clearwire, both of which will utilize the new Vision architectures for large scale LTE deployments (CP: Are we witnessing the resurgence of Sprint?). LG Telecom is using a similar architecture in South Korea to launch a double-duty CDMA and LTE network (CP: LG Telecom’s new CDMA-LTE network offers a glimpse of Sprint’s future).

The deal with Crown Castle has three components:

· It establishes uniform rates for all Network Vision sites, relieving Sprint of negotiating tower and rooftop contracts on a site-by-site basis. Sprint said this provides a high degree of cost predictability as its network evolves and grows.

· The agreement gives Sprint flexibility to deploy next-generation technologies today while it winds down its iDEN network. This is significant since Sprint plans to shut down its old CDMA networks long before it starts shutting down iDEN.

· It allows Sprint to run Network Vision gear at sites concurrently with its old CDMA infrastructure, giving it time to ensure a smooth transition for customers.

Sprint said it has already begun the site work at thousands of locations to pave the way for Network Vision base stations, but with the Crown Castle agreement in place it can move even more quickly at remaining locations.


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