Sprint has joined the 4G LTE party, but it has a long way to go in catching up with competitors Verizon and AT&T, which already have a big lead over the provider.
Sprint has launched its 4G LTE network. The service is now available in several cities near Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, San Antonio, Tex., and Waco, Tex., the company said on Monday.
In total, Sprint says that 15 cities now have access to its new LTE network. But the initial deployment is still rather concentrated among a few places in Georgia, Texas, and Sprint's headquarters in Kansas City. Sprint had announced the major market launches for 4G LTE earlier this month.
In Georgia, the company has established LTE in these markets: Atlanta, Athens, Calhoun, Carrollton, Newnan, and Rome. In Texas, Sprint now offers LTE in Dallas, Fort Worth, Granbury-Hood County, Houston, Huntsville, San Antonio, and Waco. And Sprint is also offering 4G LTE in its hometown Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., as well as St. Joseph, Mo.
Sprint, the third largest wireless network in the U.S., was actually the first carrier in the U.S. to launch a so-called 4G wireless network. Through a partnership with Clearwire, Sprint launched its 4G service in 2008 using a technology called WiMax. While the technology itself works just fine, it has not been widely adopted by other wireless carriers around the world for mobile broadband use. So the company decided to launch its own 4G LTE network, using spectrum it had not given Clearwire as part of its WiMax partnership.
Clearwire is also planning to launch a 4G LTE network, and Sprint remains a partner in the company.
But even though Sprint was first to build a 4G wireless network, it's now playing catch up to Verizon Wireless in the LTE market. Verizon launched its LTE network in 2010 and now has more than 304 markets with 4G LTE. AT&T launched its network this year, and it recently said it has more than 47 markets with LTE.
Sprint executives say they are making good progress in deploying their "Network Vision" strategy, which is Sprint's grand plan to reuse and re-farm spectrum as well as reuse existing towers to expand its 3G network and deploy 4G LTE.
Sprint says that it will launch additional 4G LTE markets in the second half of 2012. And it expects to complete its 4G LTE network by the end of 2013. At that time, the company will have also have improved its 3G network, the company says. Some of the benefits once it has completed this massive upgrade will be better signal strength, fewer dropped/blocked calls, faster data speeds, expanded coverage and better overall performance on the network.
Sprint currently is the only nationwide wireless operator to offer unlimited data for its smartphone customers with no limits or thresholds. The company joined AT&T and Verizon last year in offering the Apple iPhone 4S, and the company hopes that its partnership with Apple can help drive more subscriber growth on the network.
Sprint has already launched five 4G LTE-capable devices: The HTC EVO 4G LTE ($199.99); LG Viper 4G LTE ($99.99); Samsung Galaxy Nexus ($199.99); Samsung Galaxy S III ($199.99 for 16GB version); and Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot, which supports LTE as well as WiMax and 3G ($99.99).
Sprint has been struggling for years to keep up with bigger players AT&T and Verizon Wireless. As these carriers have grown over the years, Sprint has seen its subscribership decrease. Still, the company has improved its customer service. And the company has received accolades for these improvements. Recently, the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked Sprint No. 1 among all national carriers and most improved in customer satisfaction, across all 47 industries, during the last four years, the company said in its press release.