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Hesse: Sprint Looking for More Spectrum

Wed, 02/20/2013 - 10:39am
Ben Munson

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said his company is seeking to acquire more wireless spectrum in order to stay competitive with AT&T and Verizon.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Hesse said Sprint hopes to scoop up more of the precious commodity by either buying it from other companies or from the government.

Sprint is currently pursuing a deal to acquire the remaining 50 percent of WiMAX provider Clearwire. Sprint is already the majority shareholder in the company, but the buyout could potentially give them control of Clearwire’s vast swathes of 2.5 GHz spectrum. Sprint has offered to buy the rest of Clearwire for $2.2 billion ($2.97 per share.)

Hesse told Bloomberg that Clearwire would give his company a “strong spectrum position for a period of time,” saying that Sprint also has a very long-term view, and the company would want to acquire more spectrum.

A major inflow of cash from Japan’s Softbank, which has bid to acquire 70 percent of Sprint for $20 billion, should help the U.S.’s third largest wireless provider in its quest to gobble up more spectrum.

In lieu of purchasing spectrum, Sprint has said it will refarm spectrum from its iDEN network for use with its LTE rollout. Sprint last month announced it had turned on LTE services in 28 more cities and that it hopes to completely cover its 3G footprint by the end of 2013.

Its iDEN network is slated to be decommissioned as early as June 30, 2013. Sales of most iDEN devices have been discontinued and Sprint is working to move the customers still using the phones to its new service.

About 9,600 iDEN cell sites were taken down by the middle of 2012. The replacement PTT service has a broader footprint than iDEN, more than doubling coverage to 2.7 million square miles including the addition of 2G and roaming service.

Sprint plans to use the 800 MHz spectrum left over from iDEN to supplement its LTE  network on the 1900 MHz band. The PTT overhaul is part of Sprint's broader network upgrade project, which has it ripping out old base stations and replacing them with new equipment that supports LTE. Hesse said in June of last year that the company's vendors were on track to have 12,000 of the new sites on air by year-end.

While Sprint has pursued the Clearwire deal, the company’s competition has stayed busy. Last month, Verizon Wireless said that it will sell 39 lower 700 MHz B Block licenses to AT&T in exchange for a payment of $1.9 billion and the transfer by AT&T to Verizon Wireless of AWS (10 MHz) licenses in certain western markets, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Fresno and Portland, Oregon.

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