At the same time, Sprint said the FCC is easing the onerous task of moving iDEN spectrum out of the 800-MHz band in a way that will accommodate public-safety networks.
Sprint's plan is to partner with Motorola to refocus its iDEN network infrastructure and phones. Nextel (now owned by Sprint) and Motorola partnered in the '90s to establish the iDEN network, which can share wavelengths with public-safety networks.
While Nextel customers have left the Sprint Nextel combine in droves since Sprint acquired Nextel for $35 billion, Nextel still has a shrinking but loyal core of users who like the push-to-talk iDEN feature. Sprint has already written off $30 billion of the acquisition price.
"The iDEN network is a key differentiator for Sprint, as it allows us to offer products and services no other carrier in the industry can match," said Sprint CEO Dan Hesse in a statement. "We continue to build on our support for our industry-leading push-to-talk Nextel Direct Connect franchise." Hesse noted that the company has been beefing up the network and adding new handsets and functionality to iDEN this year.
The announcement that Sprint will refocus its iDEN effort also clears the decks for the FCC vote Nov. 4 on a petition from Sprint and Clearwire to develop a nationwide WiMax network. Earlier this month, Sprint introduced its first WiMax deployment in Baltimore to generally favorable reviews.
The FCC's decision to permit Sprint to remain on the interleaved portion of the 800-MHz band will help Sprint deal with challenges that have arisen over Nextel's old spectrum.
In a release Thursday, Sprint thanked the FCC for permitting it to gradually vacate the spectrum "in stages based on the region-by-region progress made by public-safety licensees in returning their systems to their new spectrum home."
Sprint said the FCC's easement will enable it to support the 800-MHz reconfiguration as well as to deliver good service to iDEN users. Sprint said Phase I of the reconfiguration involving 1,200 licensees is nearly completed, while two-thirds of Phase II involving 265 licensees is two-thirds completed. The effort is aimed at eliminating interference in and near public-safety network spectrum.