Sprint's Network Vision - Impact On Cell Tower and Cell Site Lease Holders
In December 2010, fully five years after the Sprint/Nextel merger, Sprint finally announced Network Vision. Network Vision is Sprint's comprehensive plan to consolidate the diverse assets and technologies that they compiled as part of the ill-fated Sprint Nextel merger. Sprint intends to deploy an entire new network on its existing sites. The purpose of this Network Vision plan is to eliminate redundant cell sites and to improve the efficiency (power and capacity) of the Sprint network. As a brief summary, when Sprint acquired Nextel, each was operating their own network using two distinctly different sets of frequencies and two distinctly different sets of technologies. Nextel's frequencies (before a forced re-banding due to interference with public safety radios) were between 806 and 869 MHz while they operated an iDEN system. Sprint operated in the PCS frequencies of 1850-1990 MHz and used a CDMA technology. Sprint assumed that they could migrate the Nextel customers to the Sprint network eventually, but the actual timetable took far longer than expected, during which time many Nextel customers terminated their service.
The Network Vision plan is intended to consolidate all of the various frequencies now controlled by Sprint/Nextel and develop a single LTE technology platform for use by all subscribers. Sprint announced the Network Vision plan with the following expectations as represented by Steve Elfman - Sprint's President of Network Operations at the 2011 4th Quarter Earnings Call.
- “First, we expect to greatly improve our cost structure through the consolidation of our networks as well as improving the coverage within our 3G footprint and reducing our in-footprint roaming expenses.” In other words, Sprint anticipated that Network Vision will allow them to terminate duplicative assets and provide better coverage and capacity from their existing cell sites.
- “Second, we expect the program will allow us to optimize our spectrum assets through the redeployment of our 800 spectrum to both 3G and ultimately, 4G LTE, which is expected to improve the performance of our network and improve customer experience.” This means that Sprint intends as part of the Nextel re-banding to be able to better use the re-banded spectrum.
- “Third, our multimodal technology is both more cost effective and provides the flexibility to enable spectrum hosting.” By this, Sprint means that the system will be designed to accommodate other wireless carriers with their own spectrum. For instance, Sprint signed a deal in mid-2011 with Lightsquared whereby Sprint would build the network while Lightsquared would be able to use its spectrum to provide service over the Sprint Network.
- “Lastly, through the implementation of new PTT, push-to-talk technology and devices on the Sprint platform, we can maintain our leadership and eliminate the Nextel platform.” Sprint needed to find a way to staunch the bleeding from Nextel subscribers who rely heavily on PTT who left in droves over the last 5 years.
Steel in the Air, Inc. believes that the average landowner who has a Sprint or Nextel tower on their property (or a tower with Sprint collocated on it) will not see a significant impact from the Network Vision plan. Sprint will replace some of the equipment on the ground and on the tower. The net impact over time will be a reduction of equipment at each cell site. The following photos are from Sprint's website and show the difference between the existing Sprint infrastructure and the future Sprint infrastructure.
There will be some ground leases for towers that will be terminated altogether. Those landowners with these sites will receive termination notices over the next few years.
Tower owners and building owners will see an impact, though. From what we can gather from proposals we have seen so far, it appears that Sprint is attempting to replace some existing antennas in a tiered manner. First, during the interim phase, they are replacing some of the current CDMA antennas with LTE antennas. They are replacing the coaxial cable with fiber optic cable and installing remote radio heads (RRH) that allow for more efficient processing and transmission of radio frequency by the antennas. By keeping some CDMA antennas but adding LTE antennas, Sprint can accommodate both technologies while attempting to migrate Sprint users to LTE phones from CDMA-based phones. Then after another year, Sprint will perform additional modification by removing any remaining CDMA antennas and replacing them with LTE antennas. As it pertains to the cabinets on the site and the interim phase, Sprint will be adding a small cabinet for LTE. Then when they complete the final phase, the existing CDMA equipment cabinets will be removed. The final phase is purported to occur within a year or so of the initial installation. If you are trying to determine whether the Network Vision modifications are allowed under your lease, please see Cell Tower Attorney's page on cell site lease modifications requests.
If you are unsure about whether you need help related to a consent request from Sprint, please don't hesitate to contact us. We are happy to review your lease documentation and let you know whether we think it would be worth your time to retain us. There is no charge for the initial discussion. We won't provide any information about how much you might expect in additional rent as part of the initial discussion. However, we will let you know what our fee would be to review the matter and whether we think you will be likely to recoup your investment in our services.