Now that Sprint, the nation’s third largest carrier, has announced a timeline and blueprint for its LTE rollout as it migrates from rival 4G WiMax technology to the faster LTE protocol, it is speculated that when that does happen, Sprint may have to stop offering its unlimited data plans. Sprint is the lone carrier out of the four national carriers to offer a truly unlimited data plan without data caps, speed caps, or throttling, and the carrier has exploited this feature as a selling point in recent years as it targets smartphone shoppers.
So faster data with LTE is a benefit, right? Well, it is, until too many users start hopping onto Sprint’s airwaves and clog the network. Right now, Sprint has only dedicated 10 MHz of spectrum for 4G LTE, compared with AT&T and Verizon which have allocated 20 MHz. Sprint will most likely have to re-allocated spectrum for its iDEN network, which it is winding down, to be used for 4G LTE in the future.
This means that as more users sign up for unlimited, speeds on Sprint’s network will decline until Sprint can no longer afford to offer unlimited.
Right now, Sprint is also in talks with its 4G WiMax partner Clearwire, of which Sprint is a majority stakeholder. Sprint wants to piggyback onto Clearwire for 4G LTE coverage in areas where Sprint is strained for capacity, but its unclear if WiMax has the necessary funds to build out an LTE network.
Another problem facing the carrier is the AT&T-T-Mobile deal, which Sprint is vocally against. If the deal goes through and AT&T is allowed to acquire T-Mobile, then Sprint will be distantly trailing AT&T and Verizon Wireless. If the deal fails to go through, Sprint will face stiff competition from T-Mobile, which has a $6 billion fall-back package from AT&T if the deal is unsuccessful, in the low-cost market for wireless service. Additionally, T-Mobile’s AWS spectrum may find it an ally in the cable industry. As it stands, cable providers have unused spectrum in the same band(s) as T-Mobile’s and the partnership would be harmful to Sprint as some of the cable companies, along with Sprint, are now partners in Clearwire.