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Sprint to move into LTE-Advanced by 2013, report says

Without even deploying an LTE network, the wireless provider is already looking ahead to move to the next-generation of LTE by 2013. Company exec today also provides more details on its 4G plans for next year, according to a report.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
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Sprint CEO Dan Hesse speaks to his leadership team at an investor meeting earlier this month when he unveiled the company's 4G plans for next year. Roger Cheng/CNET

Sprint Nextel doesn't yet have its own 4G LTE network up and running, but that hasn't stopped it from already talking up plans for the next iteration of LTE.

The wireless provider said it plans to deploy LTE-Advanced technology after rolling out its LTE network next year, according to Fierce Wireless. Speaking at the 4G World conference in Chicago today, Iyad Tarazi, Sprint's vice president of network development and engineering, said it would occur in the first half of 2013.

LTE-Advanced is a faster version of LTE and what the International Telecommunications Union originally deemed a true 4G standard. Terazi said he expects to achieve download speeds of 12 to 15 megabits per second with the upgraded network.

The company earlier this month unveiled its plans to use its Network Vision upgrade plan as a springboard for its 4G LTE deployment. It plans a rapid deployment through next year as it hopes to catch up to Verizon Wireless's own speedy LTE roll out, as well as AT&T, which has begun to roll out LTE in a few markets.

The presentation was an unusually contentious one as Sprint left a lot of questions unanswered. Its plans seemed to leave longtime 4G partner Clearwire out in the cold, and it was unclear whether its own spectrum would be enough to power its 4G LTE ambitions.

But Tarazi provided additional details to next year's plans. The company plans to use its 1.9 gigahertz spectrum for its own 4G LTE network, and plans to have 250 million to 270 million people covered by LTE by 2013, when that network will be larger than its 3G CDMA footprint.

Tarazi said that Sprint will initially offer 4G devices that run voice over the 3G network and data over 4G, but it plans to eventually move to voice over LTE in early 2013. Voice over LTE is seen as more efficient than older technology.

In addressing the concerns over Sprint's seemingly estranged relationship with Clearwire, Tarazi also disclosed that Sprint would end the year with roughly 20 percent of its traffic running on Clearwire's network. The company has said it would continue to support WiMax service and products through next year, but has given no indication for its plan after.

That has led many to believe that Sprint would drop WiMax by the end of 2012, although CEO Dan Hesse has warned that investors shouldn't read into the lack of announcements with Clearwire as an intent to drop it as a partner.

Clearwire is making its own move to LTE, although it continues to be strapped for cash. The company needs to raise $150 million to $300 million to continue its current operations and another $600 million to upgrade to LTE. Clearwire CEO Eric Prusch told CNET in September that he was confident in obtaining the financing by the end of the year. Participants at Sprint's investor meeting earlier this month were questioning whether it was more financially prudent to invest in Clearwire's network over Sprint's own plan, particularly because Clearwire has a better spectrum position.

While much of the focus has been on its 4G plans, Tarazi said Sprint would continue to invest in its 3G network to support existing subscribers, particularly ones who have just upgraded to an iPhone 4S, which only runs on 3G. The investment includes the use of femtocells, which are tiny boxes that act like miniature cellular towers that can boost the signal of nearby phones. Sprint has 500,000 femtocells deployed, and Terazi said he expects to have more than 1 million deployed by the first half of 2013, along with LTE femtocells next year.