Sprint LTE Network Slowly Expands

Sprint launched its LTE 4G network in 34 new markets Monday, but the company's mobile broadband still trails AT&T and Verizon significantly.
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Sprint announced that its LTE 4G network is now available in 185 markets around the country, including 34 markets that went live this month. Sprint plans to provide about 200 million users with LTE service by the end of the year, but the company didn't say just how far along it is in meeting that goal.

Many of the new markets Sprint named on Monday are smaller cities and towns, such as Bedford, Pa.; Lake Charles, La.; and Lufkin, Texas. Though Sprint's LTE network is present in some of the country's largest markets, including Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles, it has yet to fully reach important markets like New York City. Sprint offers LTE in Brooklyn and the Bronx, but not Queens, Manhattan or Staten Island.

Sprint's LTE build-out continues to expand, but the company can't match its competitors' 4G networks.

[ Google's new 4G Nexus 7 tablet comes with a free month of T-Mobile data. Read Google Intros LTE Nexus 7 With Free Data. ]

Verizon Wireless leads in overall LTE coverage. Its LTE service is available in more than 400 markets, covering more than 300 million users. Verizon has completed building its LTE network. AT&T's LTE network isn't too far behind Verizon's; as of last week, AT&T said, its 4G LTE network covers nearly 240 million people. AT&T will meet its target to cover 270 million users in more than 400 markets by the end of the year. The company believes its LTE 4G build-out will be functionally complete by the summer of 2014, when it will cover 300 million people.

T-Mobile and Sprint are essentially neck-and-neck. T-Mobile recently announced that its LTE network covers 180 million users across 154 markets. T-Mobile said it is on target to meets its LTE build-out goal -- more than 200 million users covered -- by the end of the year.

Sprint is moving more slowly than AT&T and Verizon, thanks to a messy spectrum position. The company has been deploying LTE 4G in its PCS spectrum (1900 MHz) alongside its 3G network, and there is limited bandwidth in that slice of airwaves. The company had to wait until June 30 to turn off its iDEN network, which operated in the 800-MHz band, and it is in the process of refarming that spectrum. Sprint only recently came into full control of the former Clearwire's 2.5-GHz spectrum. With the iDEN network off and the Clearwire spectrum in hand, Sprint will now be able to move much more quickly with its LTE 4G plans.

Despite the more limited scale of its LTE 4G network, Sprint offers unlimited data on its 4G smartphones.

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