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Sprint revamping old iDEN network for LTE

Pushing forward with its LTE 4G upgrade, Sprint will recycle iDEN push-to-talk spectrum.

Motorola's Brute i686 runs on the Sprint Nextel iDEN service. Motorola

If you follow the wireless industry, you probably know already that cellular spectrum is a dear commodity. The supply shortage is only bound to get worse as U.S. carriers battle to build competing LTE 4G networks. Sprint apparently plans to head off any more 4G transition headaches by morphing its own iDEN spectrum for LTE use.

According to cellular business site Fierce Wireless, Sprint's President of Network Operations Steve Elfman told a group of reporters at a press event held in the company's Kansas headquarters exactly that. Specifically Sprint will convert its Nextel iDEN push-to-talk infrastructure over to LTE 4G hardware and use the resulting vacant 800MHz wireless spectrum to fuel its 4G dreams.

Problem is Sprint still has customers who subscribe to its PTT service. That's not an issue says Mr. Elfman who reportedly told Fierce Wireless that the number of iDEN users is currently at an all-time low of 6 million. That's down from 20 million when Sprint first invested heavily in iDEN infrastructure. Elfman elaborated by stating the carrier will sunset 9,600 iDEN cell sites this year and scrap the remaining cells in 2013.

Sprint subscribers who still crave push-to-talk will be migrated over to the carrier's newer CDMA-based Direct Connect service. I'm not exactly sure how this will happen but Sprint will have a strong incentive to show old iDEN folks the door since it'll determine how fast Sprint can flip the 4G LTE switch.