According to statements made by Sprint’s CFO at a recent analyst conference, Sprint’s anticipated 4G LTE network may arrive later than expected.
At the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, CFO Joseph Euteneuer said Sprint’s first wave of 4G LTE handsets would be arriving in the second half of 2012. This differs from Sprint’s messaging when it first confirmed its 4G rollout plans. At that time, in early October, Sprint’s story was that a wave of some 15 different LTE devices would begin landing before the middle of next year.
Although some believe Sprint’s late entry into the LTE game puts the carrier at a disadvantage (similar to its late arrival in the iPhone game), the LTE delay could also offer benefits to consumers — this despite the fact that Verizon already offers LTE, and AT&T will as well by mid-2012.
“I think if Sprint can get LTE out in time for a big promotional push for the  holidays, they’ll be all right,” iSupply analyst Francis Sideco says. “That’s where a lot of their push will come from anyway.” Indeed, we can see a holiday push going on right now, with a cornucopia of deals and new phone offerings littering the mobile landscape.”
Sprint was actually the first U.S. wireless carrier to embrace 4G, choosing to go with WiMax rather than LTE. Sprint launched the first 4G phone, the EVO 4G, in 2010. Despite network immaturity, nearly all the major carriers began embracing 4G in some form early in 2011. Verizon’s LTE network is currently the most robust and provides the highest data speeds.
At Sprint’s Developer Conference, CEO Dan Hesse said that Sprint’s upcoming LTE rollout would cover some 125 million people by the end of 2012, and 250 million people by the end of 2013. Sprint has reiterated on several occasions that its foray into LTE doesn’t mean it’s abandoning WiMax or Clearwire, which it currently uses for its 4G services. The carrier will continue to support WiMax devices through the end of 2012.
Regardless of when LTE arrives on Sprint, the addition of another top-tier carrier to the LTE club is likely a good thing for wireless subscribers.
“From a consumer standpoint, it’ll help with cost, innovation, and the number of devices available,” Sideco says. This includes innovation in the product space, as well as in areas like marketing. Sideco points out that data plan pricing could also be affected — and possibly in a positive way for consumers, as Sprint might try to lure away customers from Verizon and AT&T.
And, as we’re seeing with first-time smartphone purchasers, if Sprint could manage to keep prices low, it will be able to tap into a huge, growing market as consumers begin to upgrade to LTE.