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Sprint CEO: 4G plans to come in the fall

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has delayed an update on the company's 4G network plans and says the company will provide more details in the fall.

Dan Hesse at Sprint headquarters today
Dan Hesse at Sprint headquarters today. Kent German/CNET

KANSAS CITY, Mo.--Sprint Nextel will provide more details on its 4G plans in the fall, Chief Executive Dan Hesse said during a meeting with reporters at the company's headquarters here today.

Sprint was originally scheduled to provide an update on its 4G plans by the middle of the year. However, Hesse, speaking to a roundtable of reporters today, provided the later date.

"All your questions will be answered then," Hesse said.

Questions have mounted about Sprint's 4G strategy as Verizon Wireless has raced past Sprint with more markets. T-Mobile USA has covered nearly its entire footprint with an upgraded network it also calls 4G.

Sprint was the leader in 4G by virtue of its partner Clearwire, which was responsible for building and managing a WiMax network. But Clearwire, which Sprint owns a majority stake in, has run into financing issues and has seen its rollout stall.

"It's no question there's a slowdown," Hesse said.

Referring to the need to have a speedier rollout of 4G, Hesse said the concerns would be addressed in the fall. The plans are expected to run in conjunction with Sprint's Network Vision infrastructure upgrade plan, which allows it to run different wireless technologies, including CDMA, or 4G technologies such as LTE and WiMax.

Hesse, meanwhile, said it was "an issue of economics" as to why Sprint doesn't take over Clearwire and handle the rollout of the network itself. Sprint doesn't want Clearwire's debt-and-cash burn to hurt its own balance sheet, and has preferred to keep it a separate company.

Hesse, meanwhile, echoed his opposition to the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, reiterating his argument that it would hurt innovation.

"There would be no 4G today in the U.S. without Sprint," he said, arguing that Verizon Wireless wouldn't have moved to LTE so quickly if Sprint hadn't gone to WiMax first.

Sprint has taken a hardline against the deal, and executives haven't talked about the prospect that it goes through. But Hesse acknowledged that Sprint has a contingency plan in case the merger goes through.

"But I don't spent a lot of time on it," he said.

Hesse added that the departure of Christine Varney as the head of the Justice Department adds uncertainty and could potentially lengthen the approval process. He said that's bad for the industry because uncertainty in general is bad.

"I would rather know sooner rather than later," he said.

Hesse also weighed in on the recent patent battles, including the fight between HTC and Apple, noting that it is a negative to the carriers and consumers.

"Patent law isn't something to take lightly, and we don't," he said.

The patent fights typically end up settling themselves through licensing agreements, which could mean fees and higher costs that are passed down to the carrier or customer. Hesse said he wouldn't know where the burden of the costs would be shared.

"There's no upside here," Hesse said.