FCC allows Sprint to use 3G and 4G technologies in iDEN spectrum

US operator Sprint Nextel will be able to provide better coverage to its customers after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved new legislation surrounding the use of Enhanced Specialised Mobile Radio (ESMR) 800MHz spectrum, which Sprint currently uses for iDEN.

The FCC has amended its rules to allow licence holders “increased regulatory and technical flexibility”, meaning that Sprint can now run CDMA2000 and LTE technologies on the spectrum. Previously, the Commission’s rules imposed a restriction on the spectrum forcing ESMR licence holders to use narrowband technologies; services that use less than 25kHz of spectral bandwidth, such as iDEN.

Sprint Nextel holds the majority of 800MHz ESMR licenses in the US, and under its Network Vision initiative will “deploy next-generation base station technology that will operate across all of Sprint’s licensed spectrum.”

As part of the initiative, Sprint had said it intends to incorporate its 800MHz ESMR spectrum into its CDMA network and forthcoming LTE deployment. However, it had been unable to aggregate its 800MHz ESMR channels to deploy CDMA or LTE due to the limitations imposed by the FCC to use narrowband technologies.  In June 2011, Sprint Nextel filed a petition to allow ESMR 800MHz licensees to exceed the channel spacing and bandwidth.

Now that it has received approval from the FCC, Stephen Bye, CTO at Sprint Nextel, told that the operator has already begun refarming its 800MHz ESMR spectrum and is gearing up to run 3G and 4G technologies using the spectrum.

“We have 800MHz spectrum that was part of the iDEN Nextel restructure and we are in the process of taking down the iDEN network and migrating those customers over,” he said. “As we free up that spectrum we’ll be reusing it, shipping from iDEN to CDMA but also using LTE in that spectrum.”

“That was a big decision, to take down the iDEN network and refarm the 800MHz spectrum. It’s a considerable investment that we’re making, but it positions us very well competitively going forward as a company. If there’s one decision that has and will impact the trajectory of the company, it’s this one,” he added.

In a statement, the FCC added: “Consumers will benefit from this flexibility through improved access to advanced wireless services, including in rural, unserved, and underserved areas.”

SouthernLINC Wireless, a regional iDEN provider, will also similarly benefit from the FCC’s decision.

Look out for our exclusive interview with Sprint’s Stephen Bye in the forthcoming issue of Mobile Communications International (MCI).

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