Sprint’s New 2012 4G Network Rollout May Hint at LTE iPhone 5

Sprint holds its own press conference for the new iPhone 4S, as well as what the company has planned for its own 4G network. Could it hint at a 4G LTE iPhone 5 in 2012?

After the excitement that surrounded the October 4th iPhone 4S announcement and the ensuing shock and grief over Steve Jobs’ death in the same week, Sprint’s October 7th press conference for investors on the iPhone and 4G network rollout passed by with only a whimper on the news wires. Unlike the flashy, media-rich Apple media event, Sprint’s press conference was more of a “talking head,” with top Sprint executives discussing a wide range of issues, performance, and developments that only investors could find interesting.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse led off, referencing the iPhone in his opening remarks. He admitted that the #1 reason for Sprint’s loss of customers over the past few years has been the lack of the iPhone in their roster of smartphone products, admitting that the iPhone is the “best global brand in the tech space.” While subsidies are higher on the iPhone than other phones, Hesse expects the iPhone 4S will be one of the company’s most profitable products, and a chance at boosting Sprint’s profit margins.

Aside from Hesse’s remarks, however, the press conference was surprisingly light on discussion of the iPhone 4S.

The crux of the Sprint press conference concentrated on Sprint’s aggressive investment in a wide-reaching 4G LTE network, which the company plans to roll out in mid 2012. And although the iPhone was not explicitly discussed in Sprint’s 4G LTE network presentation, their investment in 4G technology suggests that the 2012 iPhone 5 could indeed be Apple’s first LTE smartphone.

At present, Sprint imagines that it will take two to three years from this point to fully enable their 4G network. We were explicitly told in the press conference that Sprint’s first 4G devices will be dual-mode CDMA/LTE devices — including tablets and smartphones — and that they will begin to be available in mid 2012, expecting 15 4G-ready devices in the first wave.

Wouldn’t that be right around the time of Apple’s 2012 WWDC, the usual event where a new iPhone gets announced?

It also appears that Sprint is getting into the LTE race at just the right time: the press conference revealed that LTE chipset costs are actually set to decline in the next 4 years, bringing them well in line with current 3G chip sets. This might be the ultimate reason why Apple has held off on deploying LTE technology into the iPhone: they’re waiting for costs to go down so that a 4G LTE iPhone can maximize profits.

Sprint’s modified network infrastructure will be a streamlined multi-mode 3G and 4G network platform combined: it’s much smaller, flexible, easy to maintain, less utility requirement, less of a footprint, and low-cost. And Sprint will be looking to rent out use of their 4G LTE network to smaller mobile companies — such as current 4G tenant LightSquared — thus building a kind of “confederation” of small mobile companies under the Sprint umbrella. It should do a lot to boost revenues for the company.

The notion that the 2012 iPhone 5 could end up being 4G LTE based on this press conference is pure speculation — it is nothing more than a bit of deductive reasoning, imagining that Sprint’s “all in” investments in the iPhone and 4G are bound to converge at some point. It just makes good business sense. But if the iPhone 5 does turn out to be truly 4G — and that it gets announced in mid 2012 — then we could be looking at the bold iPhone 5 redesign that many expected in 2011.

Other Notes From the Press Conference 

  • ACSI says that Sprint is the most improved company across all 47 industries in customer satisfaction over the past three years, and the only improved U.S. mobile carrier. Sprint is now tied with Verizon in customer satisfaction.
  • The Reputation Institute says that in 2010, Sprint’s worldwide reputation improved more than any other company in the world.
  • Sprint’s total Subscribers decreased for 11 consecutive quarters, but have increased for the last 5 consecutive quarters.




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