Back in October, Sprint announced an aggressive LTE rollout that would bring full nationwide LTE coverage by the end of 2013. The LTE network would launch in several cities sometime in mid-2012, and Sprint is apparently hard at work building out the infrastructure needed to support such a network.

Sprint announced this morning that their first LTE cluster was live in the town of Kankakee, Illinois, approximately 60 miles outside of Chicago. With this rollout, Sprint is claiming that it has completed its field test of LTE capability, and are all set to launch their first LTE devices sometime in mid-2012.

At the same press event in October, Sprint indicated that it was hard at work on several improvements to its 3G network, which was hit hard when the iPhone 4S came to Sprint’s network in October. Users were reporting worse than ever 3G speeds, with data speeds that matched what I was experiencing on T-Mobile’s Edge (2G) network.

Sprint also announced this morning that their 3G network has been upgraded from coast to coast, marking the achievement of significant milestones in their Network Vision deployment.

As I’m normally connected to Sprint’s WiMax network in Minneapolis, I turned off 4G this morning to see how improved Sprint’s 3G network really is. The speedtest results are painful, with data speeds ranging from 150-300 kbps down, and 200-400 kbps up, and that’s even with a full 6 out of 6 bars on the Motorola Photon 4G. This compares to my usual WiMax speeds of 3-10 mbps down, 1-1.5 mbps up. Apparently Sprint still has some work to do to enhance their 3G network, unless “from Coast to Coast” truly means “on the coasts.”

While Sprint still has a lot of work to do on its 3G network, the rapid LTE deployment and advancements Sprint has made with LTE cluster rollout are certainly welcome news for Sprint’s customers. Here’s hoping the rollout stays on track and that we see LTE on the nation’s #3 carrier by the middle of next year.

Press Release:

Sprint delivers 3G network upgrades coast-to-coast, marks significant milestones in Network Vision deployment

As 2011 draws to a close, Sprint customers from New York City to San Francisco now enjoy enhanced 3G coverage, resulting in faster data speeds and fewer dropped calls

LTE deployment is on track for 2013

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (BUSINESS WIRE), December 27, 2011 – As part of its Network Vision program, Sprint (NYSE:S) doubled its 2011 capital investment over 2010 to make tens of thousands of capacity upgrades, resulting in a better wireless experience for its customers. Smartphone penetration is expected to double over the next four years.* With Network Vision, Sprint is making it easier for data to travel, so its smartphone customers – who use on average 10 times more data than feature phone customers* – can use their devices the way they were intended.

As a result of the network improvements across the country, voice service is enhanced and Sprint customers can expect to see better performance on their smartphones, mobile broadband connection cards and mobile hotspots when using the Sprint 3G network. Performance improvements include:

Faster data speeds that enable instant web access for news updates, HD viewing and game-playing, quicker video downloads and clear video chats

Better signal strength when making a call or using the web

Fewer dropped calls for peace of mind when talking to friends, family or colleagues

“With the network investments we made in 2011 and as the only national wireless carrier to offer truly unlimited data plans while on the Sprint network, we continue to offer better value than Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.” said Bob Azzi, SVP – Network, Sprint. “But our commitment to an exceptional wireless experience doesn’t stop there. Sprint’s on an aggressive path to roll out Network Vision, and in collaboration with our partners, have already achieved many significant milestones that offer improved customer experience on the Sprint 3G network, and we expect to maintain and even accelerate this momentum in 2012.”

Throughout 2011, Sprint achieved a number of significant milestones in the deployment of Network Vision. It is on track to offer LTE devices by mid-year 2012 and complete the majority of its Network Vision rollout in 2013. Sprint expects to make additional announcements about the timing of LTE markets and devices early next year. Milestones include:

Completed development and integration of back-office systems to support the new base stations to ensure a seamless rollout

Finished lab testing of all components of the Network Vision platform, eliminating most technical risks of the program and validating rapid LTE deployment schedule

Launched Sprint Direct Connect® on CDMA and introduced three devices, allowing our iDEN customers to move to a truly mobile data experience with a comparable platinum push-to-talk experience

Launched first multi-modal base station in Branchburg, N.J., and validated improved 3G data performance metrics, such as voice quality, drops and blocks and data speeds

Launched first cluster of cell sites in Kankakee, Ill. and completing field integration testing

Nationwide, Sprint is overhauling its entire network and replacing existing equipment with the newest, most advanced equipment available in the industry through a program called Network Vision. Announced in December 2010, Network Vision is planned to consolidate multiple network technologies into one seamless network with the goal of increasing efficiency and enhancing network coverage, call quality and data speeds for customers.

Network Vision and the recent upgrades reflect Sprint’s commitment to customer service, which tied for the No. 1 spot among major wireless carriers for customer satisfaction in the 2011 American Customer Satisfaction Index. The survey showed Sprint as the most improved company in customer satisfaction, across all industries, over the past three years.

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