If Sprint lights up an LTE network, and there are no iOS devices on it...

If Sprint lights up an LTE network, and there are no iOS devices on it, does it really make an impact?

After spending a couple years wandering in the ill-fated desert that was WiMax, Sprint has finally joined the Long Term Evolution (LTE) and flipped the switch on their new, shoulda-done-it-sooner 4G network. Sprint CEO, Dan Hesse, announced the July 15 as the go-live day a couple of weeks ago.

"The performance of both the 4G LTE and improved 3G networks are exceeding our expectations and we are pleased with the progress of the entire Network Vision program."

With the launch on July 15, Sprint will have debuted 4G LTE to millions of people in five major metropolitan areas with more market launches in 2012 to be announced later this year. By the end of 2013, Sprint expects to have largely completed the build out of its all-new 4G LTE nationwide network -- with an enhanced 3G network -- covering 250 million people across the United States.

Only they don't have any iOS devices to run on it.

Sprint does have the iPhone 4S, and the bank busting contract to prove it, but the iPhone 4S doesn't run on LTE anyway. The iPhone 4S only runs on Sprint's the slow-as-molasses-in-Winterfell CDMA network. We're talking 2-3 mbps, compared to HSPA 14.4 mbps networks on the GSM side. (Verizon has the same problem.)

What Sprint doesn't have is the new iPad, which does run on LTE networks, including AT&T and Verizon. But not Sprint. At least not yet. Whether or not that changes in the near or distant future, and whether or not deploying an LTE network factors into when and if it happens, only Apple and Sprint no for sure.

But for now, if you live in Kansas City, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston or Atlanta, and you just got Sprint LTE, you're going to have to go somewhere else to get a device to run on it.

That raises the question -- if the most popular smartphone in the world doesn't run on LTE, and the most popular tablet in the world doesn't run on Sprint's LTE, how important is it that Sprint is lighting it up today?

And how important is it that Sprint build it out quickly so that, come October and the iPhone 5, Sprint isn't the only U.S. iPhone carrier without an LTE iPhone on a strong, well deployed LTE network?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

If Sprint lights up an LTE network, and there are no iOS devices on it...


"But for now, if you live in Kansas City, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston or Atlanta, and you just got Sprint LTE, you're going to have to go somewhere else to get a device to run on it."

It doesn't run iOS, but the EVO 4G LTE is available *now* on Sprint. They don't have to go anywhere. The success of the original EVO was probably enough that Sprint was willing to cut the ribbon on LTE before getting the next iteration of the iPhone - which better be LTE.

Carriers only care about increasing their subscriber count and selling their subscribers expensive voice and data plans. If iPhone and iPad will help them accomplish those goals, they'll cut a deal with Apple. (Sprint signed a contract to buy 30.5 million iPhones.) If building out an LTE network will help them accomplish those goals, they'll order their cell tower technicians to do it. (Sprint apparently did.)

Evidently Sprint is thinking long-term here. Neither the Apple deal nor the LTE build-out will make them money for years.

I'd bet the next iphone will be LTE so i wonder what will happen to Sprint if, in the coming months, they are simeltaneosly launching tons of LTE iphones along with launching untested networks.

Either way i hope its gets faster and people going LTE frees up some 3G spectrum cause i'm on sprint and data speeds in L.A. are generally horrible. well at least they are in my area. And i may be on 3G for a while since i dont' have an upgrade for a long time. And i'm not the sort that needs every new apple device so i may not get a new iphone anyways.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Carriers have to build out their infrastructure first. Customers arent going to buy a device that doesn't yet work with their carrier.

At least Mr. Hesse said that if the next iPhone has 4G/LTE ability, they'll still keep the unlimited data plan on the iPhone, so that's a good thing. Whether or not that will last long term remains to be seen.

My thinking is that once the LTE Build out reaches critical mass late in 2013, Sprint will have to do what everyone else has done. Eliminate unlimited data plans. What they may do to remain competitive is offer more data at a lower monthly cost, which could cause Verizon and AT&T customers to jump ship. I think that's Sprint's long term plan. Short term- it doesn't matter to me if Sprint releases an LTE iPhone this year because my contract is up next year. If they don't announce an LTE iPhone in 2013, people will bounce to get one elsewhere.

Oh get over yourselves ye arrogant fruity phone users. Verizon had a very aggressiveness launch of its LTE network without an i product to run on it, as did AT&T. All of the three majors carriers high end phones are LTE equipped now as they care about the experience for all their users and locking them in to their networks going forward. Sprint has been releasing high end LTE smartphones that simply outclass the iphone in every way for many months now, to the include the insanely popular GSIII. To have the mindset that a carriers network speed doesn't matter until they get an Apple product on it is the height of arrogance, and they wonder why Apple users cant break that stigma of being pompous elitist. Funny being that I can pick up an iphone in the Walgreens checkout line these days. Not to mention the fact that it is Android driving the need and push for faster 'pipes'.


Pompous elitists? Really? Android users are THE most pompous arrogant asses in the tech industry. I've been using computers since the day the Apple // came out and NOBODY is as arrogant and rude and pompous as an Android user. iPhone users don't give a rats ass about what other people use.

There isn't a more elitist, two-class smartphone platform on Planet Earth than Android. What platform has only 10% of their users on the newest release of the platform? Not iOS. That's the Great, do-no-wrong Google that allowed that to happen, along with the mostly incompetent OEM's and evil carriers. Face it, Android breaks into two classes. Nexus class, which is nice and a valid competitor, but with snide Internet trolls who can get elitist and arrogant and say "Android is better than iOS", and the carrier class, who resents their lack of updates and is willing to consider an alternative. Meanwhile we on the Apple side have a consisent platform, solid ecosystem, and the best OS on the planet for the majority of the population who wants to use their device rather than tweak it, and a device that works at fast speeds for most of the global networks that haven't even had to deploy LTE yet.

I sense you can't deal with the fact carriers are screwing Android users, and don't have the courage to face it, so you troll iMore instead. It's amazing the carrier abuse the Android people can justify. Also, the carrier situation is the only thing keeping the 4S speeds behind, a device still loved by users, a device that, unlike most LTE devices, has great battery life. Instead, you blame Apple rather than seeking to understand why they made the technical choices they did. Simplicity, not a feature list. I sense you're like the geeks and IT drones who hate Apple because they make things simple and cut people like yourself out of the loop and out of their positions of superiority. Before you call us elitist, check your own house.

Apple would have preferred the US to be on one mobile standard but instead of blaming Qualcomm and the corrupt politicians and FCC, you blame Apple! Your lack of understanding of history amazes me. Either that, or worse, you willfully ignore it.

Lloyd, heal thyself.

I have Sprint service and would take 2-3 mbps in a heartbeat. That would feel like heaven compared to the 0.3-0.5 mbps range that I currently experience.

Tell me about it. Sometimes the data is slow that it renders my iPhone completely useless. Sometimes I can't even check in somewhere on Foursquare because it's that slow.

And, according to the Sprint reps I've talked to, that's one of the reasons Sprint is trying to get this who'll out DONE. The network is apparently being augmented to provide better voice and data to all Sprint phones, not just affixed with LTE for some.

We will see if this turns out to be b.s. but I, too, am LUCKY when I even APPROACH 1 Mbps on 3G. I would LOVE 3 Mbps. I'd kill* for anything higher.

* - Okay, not really.

I know for a fact that the iPhone has slower speeds on the Sprint network than other phones on the Sprint network. My wife has an iPhone 4S and I have an EVO 3D. In same exact place, the EVO 3D data speeds are always a lot higher. I average 1.3 Meg download and .7 upload on 3G for the EVO and my wife's iPhone 4S at the same time averages .6 download and .3 upload. I really believe the radio on the Sprint version of the iPhone 4S is not to strong.

Unlimited data plans are nice, but will come to an end due to just the number of users. That is the problem with speed now. Speed tests almost always show the speed you are paying for, is not the speed you get.

"... if the most popular smartphone in the world doesn't run on LTE..."

What are you talking about??? Sprint's Galaxy S III runs on LTE! :p

Was there any mention in the $15B deal of the phones only being iPhone 4/4s? Perhaps Hesse and Apple have it worked out that the 15 billion is for the next few iPhone generations, or that the huge purchase agreement will buy them good standing with Apple for future devices.

I believe Sprint will get the new iPhone with LTE on the same day as everyone else. There is no way they would get another 3G model. I would be financial suicide if they did. They are already releasing LTE phones, with a lot more planned through the end of the year. The network will only improve over the next 6 months with more LTE implementation. Remember, most subscribers sign up for a 2 year contract, and the network will be implemented in most areas by middle of 2013 and be completed done early 2014.

"how important is it that Sprint build it out quickly so that, come October and the iPhone 5, Sprint isn't the only U.S. iPhone carrier without an LTE iPhone on a strong, well deployed LTE network?"

Very important.

1. most of the phones on sprint are NOT iphones despite it being the most popular phone so they would be serving the marjority of their customers.
2. LTE is needed to get the Iphone as Apple was not gonna make a wimax only version just for sprint.
3. Long term Android will likely be the most widely used OS on a mobile phone just like windows dominates the pc space and thus LTE is not dependant on the iphone's success.

Sprint is horrible is my area but that is only because a lot of people have Sprint as their cell phone provider. If Sprint had better service in which they might with LTE, I might consider going back to Sprint but for now, I am a Happy Verizon customer