Sprint will be able to use its 800 MHz spectrum for CDMA and LTE after the FCC passed regulations yesterday permitting more flexible use of the band.

The FCC had previously limited 800 MHz licensees to 25 KHz channels with a bandwidth of 20 KHz, regulations which effectively precluded Sprint from using its 800 MHz spectrum for anything other than iDEN. 

“Today’s unanimous vote by the FCC paves the way for Sprint and other 800 MHz licensees to deploy advanced 3G and 4G technologies in the band," Sprint government affairs executive Vonya McCann said in a statement. 

Sprint petitioned the FCC for the rule change after it decided to shut down its iDEN network and repurpose the vacant 800 MHz spectrum for CDMA and LTE.  SouthernLINC Wireless, a regional iDEN operator which also holds 800 MHz licenses, joined Sprint in pushing the government to open the band to additional uses. 

Thursday's rule change will allow Sprint to move forward with its spectrum refarming plans, a key component of its network upgrade project. 

The operator is currently using its 1900 MHz spectrum for LTE and plans to add in 800 MHz as early as next year. Sprint plans to use carrier aggregation, a feature of LTE-Advanced, to bond its 800 MHz and 1900 MHz holdings into a single channel for its LTE network. 

Sprint has so far taken about 1,900 iDEN sites off the air, and expects to decommission 9,600 by the end of the third quarter.  

Sprint first petitioned the FCC for a rule change to exceed the channel spacing and bandwidth requirements of its 800 MHz SMR licenses in June of last year. The FCC denied its request for a declaratory ruling but issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that led to the regulations passed this week. 

There were few opponents to the proposed regulations, save for some groups expressing concern about potential harmful interference with public safety operations in the 800 MHz band. The FCC's new rules include provisions to protect public safety users in the band.