Sprint’s 4G LTE Network To Go Live Early Next Year?

Sprint is clearly in a tough spot. It’s been a step behind in getting the iPhone which should be remedied soon, but the yellow carrier is also facing a mega-merger between AT&T and T-Mobile that would drop it way below the competition. The good news, however, is that it looks like Sprint has a plan, a piece of which involves the deployment of its 4G LTE network in early 2012.

According to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with CNET, LTE equipment is already going up and workers are field testing as I write. The target launch date is either the first or second quarter of 2012, but it may go live earlier. While the new improved network won’t require any additional capital investment, it will cost between $4 and $5 billion over the next three to five years.

But apparently Sprint’s plan will actually save around $10 to $11 billion over the next seven years. The carrier expects to shut down its iDEN network (for Nextel) by 2013 while installing equipment that can run both its 3G CDMA network and its forthcoming 4G LTE network. The 4G LTE network is based on the same LTE variant as Verizon’s network: FD-LTE.

In the midst of all this AT&T/T-Mobile fun, Sprint has rallied to fight the possible duopoly, painting itself (who cares how sincerely) as the American underdog. Psychologically, this has surely made Sprint customers more loyal, and lured competitors’ customers into at least considering a switch based on principle.

What holds people back is the fact that first, Sprint doesn’t have the iPhone (sorry Android fans, but it’s true), and second that its network just isn’t quite as developed as Verizon or AT&T’s. With the roll-out of a strong 4G network, the launch of the iPhone, and the reported confirmation of unchanging unlimited data, Sprint may just pull off an Appalachian St. vs. Michigan-style upset.

And this is what it will look like: