by Robert Herron
Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 6:35 PM MDT
Whether you call it the District, DC or simply Washington doesn't much matter. Soon we will be able to call it a Sprint 4G LTE city. The next market in our Network Vision/LTE deployment schedule update series is...Washington, D.C.. This market has not been announced by Sprint, but appears to be on the way for a late August launch.
The Sprint Washington DC market covers all of the District Columbia, and the Maryland and Virginia DC suburbs. Sprint's Network Vision OEM Alcatel/Lucent has been actively deploying in the Washington DC market since March and is making good progress. As of this week, there are approximately 50 Network Vision sites that have completed upgrades. These sites are located throughout the market. Mostly in D.C. and the Maryland side, but sites are now starting to come live on the Virginia side.
Network Vision Sites in the Washington DC market. Approximately fifty Network Vision sites are complete in the market.
Market Launch and Remaining Schedule
It was Sprint's original plan to launch markets when they reached 50% of sites converted to Network Vision. However, it has now been determined that Sprint will move up launches sooner than 50% completion in several markets. This is likely to maintain a Mid 2012 launch in markets that have already been announced. However, in an unannounced market like DC, we don't know if they will resume pushing back market launches to 50%, or if they will now settle on a 30% - 40% completion to be the new normal for market launches.
If Sprint waits for 50% completion to launch the DC market, it would make the launch month to be September (should AlcaLu stay on schedule). That being said, if Sprint should launch around the third week of August (as we suspect), then the market would be less than 50% complete. This doesn't sound like enough, but it would provide pretty good coverage. Even Verizon doesn't launch on all sites in a market initially. Usually less than 50%, then filling in with more and more sites every few months.
Anticipated Sites Complete at Market Launch. According to the Network Vision schedules that S4GRU has reviewed, if Sprint launched the market in late August, these are the anticipated sites that would likely have LTE complete at that time. This would provide fairly good LTE coverage over many parts of the market.
Sprint is not reporting any of these live Network Vision sites in the DC market as currently broadcasting 4G LTE, only 3G EVDO. According to the NV schedule, these should have started coming online in May with LTE. However, none have shown up as LTE active to date. This most likely means that either the backhaul is not quite ready to service 4G LTE, or the 4G cores that these sites are tied to are not quite ready for LTE traffic. A huge backlog of LTE sites will probably come online in this market suddenly when the network is ready.
The bottom line...
We currently do not have a date that Sprint will formally "launch" the Washington DC market. We believe they are targeting a launch month of August based on reports internally within Sprint. However, after reviewing the schedule, it may actually pan out to be late August or the first of September. Sprint will likely announce a launch date for this market, and a few others like Austin, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles around the time of the first launch.
Sprint's schedule for this market currently has 50 Network Vision sites complete. Alcatel/Lucent is continuing to progress and is planning to increase the production rate up to 100 sites per month from here forward. This seems like an impossible production rate to us.
S4GRU has examined the schedule in great detail in this market and sees that most of the sites will be complete by January 2013. However, there are several sites that will linger past the completion. In our estimation of the schedule, AlcaLu is currently right on time, but may have issues meeting this rate identified in Sprint's schedule.
Photo of Washington, D.C. provided courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.