Sprint plans to build its own LTE network but in time would use Clearwire's for additional capacity in some areas. In addition, Sprint has a deal with LightSquared under which it would host spectrum for the wholesale mobile data startup on its planned Network Vision infrastructure. Sprint would receive credits to use some of LightSquared's LTE capacity. Sprint's Network Vision system will be designed to accommodate multiple types of technologies and blocks of frequencies.
However, Sprint should have enough capacity in its own LTE network for at least the next few years, making the third-biggest U.S. mobile operator less dependent on its struggling partners, Entner said.
The move to LTE will not mean an immediate end to the WiMax network that currently serves about 10 million subscribers to Clearwire and its wholesale partners. If and when Clearwire deploys LTE, it plans to keep the WiMax network running for at least a few years. The company has so much spectrum it can accommodate both systems and offer services on both. Sprint will continue selling WiMax devices with two-year contracts through at least 2012 and has the right to use the Clearwire WiMax network through at least 2015.