Sprint’s Move To LTE Not Great News For Consumers

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Sprint’s Move To LTE Means Little For Consumers
Sprint on Thursday announced a $14 billion deal that would give the carrier access to about half of startup LightSquared's planned LTE network. This comes after months of rumors that the company was considering LTE technology as part of its next-generation wireless network plans.

Sprint will also help deploy and operate a portion of LightSquared's LTE network over the next 15 years. The carrier now has a clear path to move toward a wireless technology that is essentially the worldwide 4G standard.

What happens to WiMAX, though? Nothing, at least for now. Remember that LightSquared's so-called "L-Band" technology currently is taking some fire over the fact that it appears to cause significant interference to GPS. LightSquared would need to deal with that first before the network is used commercially. WiMAX remains Sprint's 4G technology of choice.

Standardization at Last?

The natural reaction for many would be excitement over the standardization of the U.S. wireless industry on a single technology once and for all. With the big four (maybe soon the big three) all migrating to LTE, consumers will finally be able to purchase one phone and choose what carrier they want, right? Not so fast.

Without getting overly technical, each of the four wireless players currently use, or will use, different frequencies for LTE. Today's LTE phone is built for one carrier only, and that's it. It's not going to work elsewhere.

Another issue is the older mobile technologies. For Sprint and Verizon, that would be CDMA, and for T-Mobile and AT&T, it's GSM. When the phone cannot find an LTE tower to connect to, it falls back to these older technologies.

That seems to put a damper on one of the benefits that LTE supporters have been putting forward for years. Everyone was moving towards the same technology. Now that we're here, it seems the similarity is in name only.

There will be a point in the future when LTE phones will indeed be able to work cross-carrier. But that means we have to deal with the aforementioned programs. Different frequencies are not an issue, different technologies are. Everyone needs to be on LTE first before that "magic phone" appears, and that's at least a half-decade (if not more) away from happening.

Don't you think by then that there will be a whole new technology that we'll all be focused on?

For more tech news and commentary, follow Ed on Twitter at @edoswald and on Facebook.

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