Sprint today unveiled a comprehensive plan for the future of its network, calling the roadmap a Network Vision Blueprint.

The Kansas City-based carrier has awarded contracts to Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Samsung to bring the plans to realization. The company says it will begin using "multimode technology" to enhance service and create network flexibility.

"We are very pleased with the results of our process which selected these three world-class partners. Each company realized the network proposal process was highly competitive, and each responded with innovative, cost-effective solutions," said Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO, in a statement.

Sprint currently uses separate equipment to deploy services on 800 MHz spectrum, 1.9 GHz spectrum and, through its relationship with Clearwire, 2.5 GHz spectrum. Under the terms of the new contracts, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Samsung will install new network equipment and software that brings together multiple spectrum bands, or airwaves, on a single, multimode base station.

According to a press release, the base stations will allow for the flexibility to offer new technologies using any of the 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz or 2.5 GHz bands, as well as other spectrum bands. Sprint and the three companies expect to finalize the implementation schedule and begin the first stages of deployment in 2011. Completion of the project is expected to take from three to five years.

Sprint estimates the total incremental cost of the Network Vision program during the deployment period to be between $4 billion and $5 billion and projects total net financial benefit for a seven-year period to be between $10 billion and $11 billion. The company attributes the cost savings to capital efficiencies, reducing energy costs, lowering roaming expenses, backhaul savings and the eventual reduction in total cell sites.

"This is a very bold move," said Berge Ayvazian, senior consultant for Heavy Reading, in a statement. "Sprint was first with an all-digital wireless network; the first to upgrade to EVDO; and, more recently, the first to broadly offer 4G services. Sprint is once again first to deploy a common converged mobile network that will strengthen its 3G services; enhance its 4G technology options; and continue delivering the industry's leading push-to-talk offering."

As part of the plan, Sprint said the company will phase out its Nextel push-to-talk (PTT) iDen network by 2013.

Sprint promises to continue to serve PTT customers but says it will move the service to its CDMA network over time, resulting in faster call set-up times. The company said that over time, a shift is likely to occur whereby customers demand more data-centric applications with PTT usage and that CDMA is the best way to offer those applications along with the service.