Sprint is expecting to decommission at least 6,000 redundant cell sites by the end of 2015. This is being done because the company will no longer be providing WiMAX services after this time. It is not yet clear what will be done with the network after that date.
When Sprint purchased Clearwire last year, WiMAX technology was deployed on approximately 17,000 cell sites and TD-LTE (Time Division Long Term Evolution or 4G) was in the process of being deployed on around 5,000 of these sites. The company has plans to expand this deployment to an additional 5,000 legacy Clearwire sites as part of its Sprint Spark tri-band LTE service.
A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has noted that Sprint plans to “cease using WiMAX technology by the end of 2015.” This has resulted in the company identifying numerous redundant sites that could expect to be decommissioned and existing leases on them terminated. Sprint has stated that the shutdowns would cost anywhere between $50 million to $100 million.
There is a possibility that the number of cell sites that Sprint plans to decommission could rise. An SEC filing from last year noted that the company had identified approximately 4,300 sites that could face decommission and lease termination when WiMAX technology ceases to be used towards the end of next year.
This is the second network that Sprint plans to shut down in as many years after their iDEN Nextel network was discontinued last year. When the company unveiled Spark, it noted that it had approximately 55,000 macro cell sites. Kelly Schlageter, a spokeswoman for Sprint, told FierceWireless that the company expected to maintain around 55,000 sites as some were decommissioned and others were added to the network. Sprint had already begun laying the groundwork to get their WiMAX customers on to LTE services before they had even acquired Clearwire.
Existing customers can opt to finish their contracts without WiMAX capability, deactivate their service and not be charged an early termination fee or they can transition over to Sprint’s LTE network. If customers switch to the LTE service, they would receive a free standard Sprint LTE-capable device and they would be able to maintain their existing service plans, “if available.”
Sprint has also stated that other offers may be provided that are separate from the transition option. However, these would be subject to customers signing a new two-year contract.