Harbinger Capital Partners' Lightsquared network was originally intended to shake up the competitive landscape by offering new players wholesale access to an entirely new LTE network. Last July it was announced that Nokia won the $7 billion contract to build the LTE network
, though a source with knowledge of Lightsquared's plans tells Broadband Reports that things have changed significantly since then, and that not only is Nokia possibly out of favor as the primary builder -- but that Lightsquared and Sprint are working in conjunction on future LTE plans, with Sprint's recently-announced base station retrofit now the cornerstone of Lightsquared's nationwide LTE ambitions.
A source tells Broadband Reports a number of things were discussed at recent meetings held at Lightsquared, including the potential for removing primary network build obligations from Nokia and instead giving them to Alcatel-Lucent, Ericcson and Samsung. A consistent discussion point at those meetings was something called "Project Freedom," which the source insists to us is the codename for Sprint's potential liberation of their 4G fortunes from Clearwire.
According to supporting documentation, Lightsquared informed meeting attendees they were working with a 3GPP2
partner "who will allow for Lightsquared to deploy its network much quicker." This partner, which the attendee again insists is Sprint, would work in conjunction with Lightsquared to jointly develop and deploy cell sites. The satellite portion of Lightsquared's network would not be impacted by this movement, and a second phase of Lightsquared's ambitions would involve "adding support for MetroPCS diversity," says the source.
Our 4G strategy is WiMAX, full stop!"
-Sprint CEO, Dan Hesse
Last May Sprint issued an LTE build RFP
, and for the last year we've heard from more than one Sprint employee that Sprint was absolutely migrating to LTE, despite several denials
by Sprint CEO Dan Hesse. Last December Sprint announced a multi-billion dollar
network overhaul paving the way for a streamlined footprint and LTE.
According to the Sprint network roadmap
, the project involves having Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Samsung retrofit every Sprint cell site, eliminating the refrigerator-sized cabinets for each technology (800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz) in favor of small, more energy efficient multi-mode base stations. The entire effort is expected to cost between four and five billion dollars, and will culminate in the phasing out of Sprint's iDen network, something that will begin in 2013. More recently, Sprint has been claiming
they could have a nationwide LTE network completed by the end of 2013, and LTE-ready smartphones on the market by the middle of 2012.
Instead of Nokia solely building Lightsquared's network, Lightsquared plans to piggyback on the Sprint upgrades being performed by Alcatel-Lucent, Ericcson and Samsung -- and share capacity on Sprint's LTE network. That gives Sprint additional leverage in negotiations with Clearwire -- or the option to detach entirely from an increasingly shaky relationship, which our source suggests is the direction Sprint's heading. It's possible that the Clearwire relationship could remain intact, but modified with Clearwire shifting to LTE as well. Regardless, this entire Sprint retrofit and partnership with Lightsquared (and their recent $586 million in fresh funding) appears to place Sprint squarely in the driver's seat.