Sprint plans to shut down its iDEN network as early as June 30, 2013, allowing it to reuse the service’s spectrum for LTE.
The operator had previously said it planned to operate the service into next year but did not name a cutoff date.
The Tuesday announcement set a hard date for the end of operations on the money-losing network, assets gained through Sprint’s ill-fated merger with Nextel in 2005. After paying $35 billion for the company, Sprint was forced to write down nearly all of the goodwill value of the acquisition and has since struggled to post a profit.
Sprint announced in late 2010 that it would phase out its iDEN network and replace it with a CDMA-based push-to-talk Direct Connect service. Business and government customers will receive written notices of the final shutdown beginning this Friday.
The 800 MHz spectrum freed up by the iDEN closure will be put to use for Sprint’s LTE network, a plan cleared by the FCC last week. Sprint is currently using its 1900 MHz holdings for LTE and plans to use carrier aggregation to bond its 800 MHz and 1900 MHz spectrum into a single channel, a feature of LTE-Advanced.
The technique will increase the capacity of Sprint’s LTE network, making it more competitive with the LTE service of competitors AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which are running their next-generation mobile broadband networks on beachfront 700 MHz spectrum.
Customers are being given “favorable offers” to move off the iDEN network to Direct Connect. The new push-to-talk service launched in October of last year and is currently available on four ruggedized handsets: the Kyocera DuraMax, Kyocera DuraCore, Kyocera DuraPlus and Motorola Admiral.
Sprint has already stopped selling iDEN devices in some channels and will discontinue the phones entirely over the next several months. Sprint will continue to sell PowerSource devices that run both iDEN push-to-talk and CDMA, as customers will still be able to access CDMA voice and data services after the iDEN network ceases operations.
Sprint is still working to expand the coverage of its Direct Connect service, eventually slated to have twice the footprint of its iDEN network. Direct Connect will cover 2.7 million square miles with the inclusion of 1xrtt and roaming coverage when complete, compared to iDEN coverage of 908,370 square miles. Sprint also launched international Direct Connect service to Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Chile last month.
More than 1,900 iDEN sites have already been taken off the air and a total of 9,600 are slated for closure by the end of the third quarter, Sprint executives said during a briefing at CTIA’s spring conference.