Sprint is hitting back against Verizon Wireless' suggestions that its forthcoming LTE network will be slower than the competition because it is launching in a narrower band of spectrum.  

"(Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead) alluded to the fact that with a 2x10 MHz versus 2x5 MHz, yes, you will have differences in peak speed," Sprint network executive Bob Azzi said at a Wednesday media briefing, referring to comments made during a keynote session the previous day, when Mead was said to have pointed out Verizon's 20 MHz of spectrum for its LTE network would give it greater speeds than a 10 MHz deployment, the amount of spectrum currently available to Sprint for its LTE service.  

"We are very confident this dog will hunt," Azzi said. "This will be a very good experience for our customers." 

Sprint has repeatedly said its LTE network will be on par with the competition but has shied away from providing specific data rates.  

Iyad Tarazi, vice president of network development and engineering, again declined to say how fast Sprint's LTE network would be, but said customers wouldn't be able to distinguish between Sprint's service and the service of its competitors.  

"You will see a really competitive performance," he said during the briefing. 

Verizon markets its LTE network as having average speeds of between 5-12 Mbps on the downlink. Tarazi said last fall that Sprint’s planned LTE Advanced network could beat Verizon's LTE data rates when it launches next year. He did not repeat the statement during the Wednesday event. 

Sprint's initial LTE deployment will run on its 1900 MHz holdings, giving it just two 5 MHz channels for the service. It plans to eventually use its 800 MHz spectrum to beef up its LTE pipe once the iDEN shutdown completes, but the strategy must first be approved by the FCC. 

Azzi said Sprint's 800 MHz spectrum may not come into play until 2014, though the strategy could become viable as early as next year. A delay with the 800 MHz spectrum would push out its LTE Advanced deployment. 

Sprint also plans to use Clearwire's still-unbuilt TD-LTE service to supplement the capacity of its network and will eventually move to LTE Advanced. 

Sprint says it will launch in six major cities by mid-year including Dallas, Atlanta, Houston and San Antonio. 

Sprint is ripping out its old gear and replacing it with new equipment from Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Samsung. About 700 of the new sites are live and construction is under way on 3,000 sites, Azzi said. 

"Everything's ready to go from a technology perspective – we won't have any hiccups from things that don't work and could be impactful across large parts of the country," he said.

The new infrastructure will significantly improve Sprint's coverage and capacity, with "major reductions in in-footprint roaming, drops and blocks, latency and stutter."