What the HTC EVO 4G LTE means for Sprint and its future

What the HTC EVO 4G LTE means for Sprint and its future

Summary: As the name of HTC's latest phone no doubt shows, Sprint has a lot riding on the success of the EVO 4G LTE.

TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware, HTC, Wi-Fi

(Photo Credit: Ricardo Bilton, ZDNet)

This post was initially supposed to be about the various features offered by the HTC EVO 4G LTE, the latest Android phone to feature far more characters in its name than is at all necessary.

But midway through writing this, it dawned on me that the HTC EVO 4G LTE itself is pretty uninteresting. Enticing, impressive, sure, but relatively and irrevocably boring compared to, say, the One X.

What's more interesting, I realized, is what the phone means -- not for HTC, but for Sprint. Sprint has a lot riding on this device, which is probably why it announced the device alongside HTC. Much of this has to do with Sprint's current state in the carrier race (a distant third, if you were unaware) as well as its immediate and long term future. Make no mistake, this phone has much to do with 2014 as it does with April 2012.

(Disclosure: I'm a fairly content Sprint customer myself, so perhaps I have a vested/biased interest in all of this. Something to keep in mind, I guess.)

4G LTE(ventually)

As with the recently-announced LTE-ready LG Viper, the EVO 4G LTE makes clear the biggest issue with Sprint's LTE network: It doesn't exist. That's a problem, because, while Verizon and AT&T own networks are, to varying degrees, up and running, Sprint's own is still in the womb. Six cities -- Atlanta, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Kansas City, and Baltimore -- will get the LTE green light by the middle of the year, which is a good start, certainly, but one that must be joined rapidly with many more additions.

HD Voice (when you can get it)

One of the more notable features with the EVO 4G LTE is that it's the first Sprint phone to offer HD Voice. Somewhat of unhelpful buzzword, HD Voice refers to a number of separate engineering feats that, when combined, vastly improve the quality of voice calls.

Sprint demonstrated this functionality during the phone's unveiling by allowing the press to test the device alongside its predecessor. The conversation on the ancient EVO sounded like any other cell phone conversation -- hollow, fuzzy, and not really all that great-sounding. But when the Sprint rep shifted the conversation to the EVO LTE 4G, it was clear that the improvements made were significant ones. The representative's voice on the new phone was clear and stable, closer to the audio quality of a Skype call than anything else. Background noise was all but eliminated.

The developments are nice, but there are some caveats. For one, both ends of the conversation must be using a HD Voice-equipped phone in order to actually use the new feature, which severely limits its spread - at least for now. This will, of course, become less of a concern once Sprint launches more HD Voice-ready phones. Limitations aside, HD Voice is a much-needed improvement and something that Sprint can confidently count as a differentiator.

(Photo Credit: Sascha Segan, PC MAG)

The Sprint difference

Speaking of differentiators, probably the most significant one for Sprint remains its unlimited data plan. Rivals Verizon and AT&T have already dropped their own unlimited offerings, leaving Sprint as the only carrier still crazy enough to offer consumers unrestricted data. That's a big deal, and it's made even bigger by the fact that Sprint says it plans to offer a similar deal with its LTE network. Crazy? Perhaps. But it's something consumers are certain to pick up on as the other carriers put on the data squeeze.

We need to talk about Heese

There's probably no one more concerned about Sprint's future than CEO Dan Hesse, whose tenure so far has been something of a mixed bag. Picking up where his ousted predecessor Gary Forsee left off, Hesse inherited a Sprint that was gravely injured by its messy merger with Nextel. Left behind by the iPhone-packing AT&T and Verizon, Hesse's Sprint is also one that recently announced that it was finished with its WiMAX efforts. Clearly, Hesse and Sprint need this whole LTE thing to go off without a hitch.

And then there's the iPhone question. If the latest iPad is any indication, Apple is almost certainly going the LTE route with the next iPhone -- a likelihood that should horrify Sprint. With no LTE network to speak of yet, the carrier may just get caught with its pants down when the next iPhone launches later this year.

Sprint, of course, has a lot riding on the iPhone. The company is set to shell out at least $15 billion to Apple over the next four years in order to get its hands on the device. That should sound crazy to you because it is: Sprint is literally banking their whole operation on the success of its iPhone plans. But for a company that hasn't turned a profit since 2008, it's clear that Sprint has no choice but to take some chances.

This is where the HTC EVO LTE 4G, LG Viper, and Galaxy Nexus come in. If these phones indicate anything, its that Sprint's LTE ambitions are already bearing fruit. And that's a big deal for both consumers and investors, the latter of which have not been entirely pleased with Sprint's fortunes over the past few years. But Sprint needs them all to be patient, at least until its LTE network begins its ascent.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, HTC, Wi-Fi

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  • So, what's going to happen to Sprint?

    "Sprint is literally banking their whole operation on the success of its iPhone plans."

    With Sprint currently lacking an operational LTE network, and pulling no profit since 2008, what is going to happen if the new iPhones do not sell well from Sprint? Granted, the iPhone 4 & 4S was a great step forward for Sprint - being that it was the last of the three largest providers to add iPhones to their repertoire - it wasn't exactly a "big hit" on Sprint's behalf. I'm not saying that iPhones should be removed from Sprint's lineup, but should they truly invest most of their future into a device that receives better support (both tech and customer support) from the other cell phone providers? I beg to differ...
    Aaron S.
    • iPhone

      I think what's going to make the iphone more attractive on Sprint is the unlimited data plan. I think Sprint really needs to push this. Their rates are also much less expensive than both Verizon and AT&T.
    • Actually

      The iPhone has been a big hit on the sprint network, it outsells all android phones combined. I am not an iPhone fan but some of the points you made are simply not true and needed to be addressed.
  • Boring?

    "the HTC EVO 4G LTE itself is pretty uninteresting. Enticing, impressive, sure, but relatively and irrevocably boring compared to, say, the One X. "

    Why do you think this????
    • Why do you think this

      maybe because is ugly!!!!
    • Doesn't sound boring for me!!

      As an owner of the original EVO 4G, this is a well needed upgrade for me. Single to dual core processor, 4g LTE (which will be faster than 4G WiMAX, whenever it comes around to my neck of the woods), and the RETURN OF THE KICKSTAND! I was deciding what will be my next new phone, being that I really did not want to leave HTC. This made up my mind!
      Aaron S.
      • Let me add...

        Based on MY personal usage of the 4G service, I am not necessarily getting the phone for the upcoming LTE option. I desire the phone for the specs, Android 4.0, and the new processor. I have Wifi at home, and when I am outside, I don't particularly need the 4G speeds, being that I usually do not stream data, such as videos or Pandora, when I am not home. Therefore, using 3G service while waiting for 4G LTE is no problem for me.

        But once again, that is just me.
        Aaron S.
    • Boring?

      I will say, this past weekend I was at a Sprint store getting my EVO 3d repaired, and I played with both the Galaxy SIII and EVO 4G LTE. Before I give my opinion, I will say that I am a die hard EVO fanatic! I was there Day 1 to get the original EVO and day 1 for the EVO 3D (both times staff and I celebrated with balloons, cookies and OJ--go figure!).

      Anyhow, like the EVO 3D, I really wasn't all that impressed with the EVO 4G LTE. Notwithstanding the Galaxy S3 being way to wide, it had a better "fun" experience. Maybe because I'm new to Sansumg devices, but the screens looked inviting and would cause me to sit and play with it longer than I did with the EV 4G LTE. The EVO 4G LTE was the same design and layout as my current EVo 3D. There was no "wow" factor to it that made me want to buy it. I will say, though that the sound quality is back! The EVO 3D sound was some serious crap.

      The EVO 4G LTE just didn't pull me in and make me want to buy it on the spot.
  • The biggest problem with Sprint

    Is coverage. As someone that travels allot, I can honestly say that I run into areas where associates, customers & coworkers that have Sprint (and TMobile) do not have good or any coverage when I do on Verizon. Believe me, I would love to change my family over to Sprint as it would save me a good sum of money each month, but I cannot give up the superior coverage I have with Verizon, especially now that I have a 4G phone & have become to rely on that speed.
    • Sprint roams on Verizons network

      There are several apps out there that allow you to "force" roaming rather than it selecting whichever network automatically. I live in a rural area and there are spots in my house where I receive a great Sprint signal and others where I must force roaming to the Verizon network. It's very complimentary.
      • Apps for forced roaming

        Can you name some apps to force roaming on Verizon?
  • The possible saving grace for Sprint

    is its generous roaming policies. As long as > 50% of your monthly usage is within Sprint coverage, there are NO roaming charges. So you can leverage everyone else's LTE networks -- half the time -- until Sprint expands.
    • not a saving grace - it's an Achilles heel

      Read the fine print on the "Now Network's" Unlimited Data plans. You are only entitled to 300 MB of data roaming. Furthermore, you won't see any LTE roaming agreements, at least not in the short term. Frequency differentials prevent that from happening.
  • Sprint's LTE, iPhone 4GS

    By June of this year Sprint will have launched LTE in at least 10 major metropolitan areas and each month thereafter they will continue launching LTE networks throughout the USA. According to schedule, which is supported by its vendors, Alcatel Lucent, Samsung and Ericsson, Sprint should have approximately 125 million POPS of FD LTE by the end of this year and 277 million by the end of 2013.

    Apple would be a fool not release their next iteration with an FD LTE radio. This according to an insider, for numerous reason, won't happen until the final quarter of 2012. This schedule fits in with Sprint's scheduled LTE launches, at which time they are expected to have at least 125 million POPS in operation.

    We should also note that Apple's iPhone 4GS will only work on T, VZ & S. Owing to a hodge podge of spectrum bands being used by the aforementioned carriers you will only be able to properly use the phone on the carriers that sell them. That means T Mobile is at least 18 months or more away from getting their hands on the latest iPhone 4GS, if it ever happens.

    Conclusion, Hesse has nothing to worry about when the next iteration of the iPhone is launched, probably in October, 2012. Also in 2013 Sprint will be able to use Clearwire's TD LTE, which is four times as fast as VZ's current FD LTE, for auxillary capacity when capacity becomes an issue, however management doesn't expect that to become an issue until 2014.
    William Wallace
  • TD LTE

    In 2013, Clearwire (54% owned by S) and China Mobile (660 million subscribers) will both launch TD LTE networks. With such a large eco-system and Qualcomm's new radio chip incorporating both TD & FD LTE on a single radio chip, Sprint is ensconced pretty well when the looming spectrum crunch begins to show its ugly head, which is not too far into the future. We should also note that Clearwire has 160 Mhz of spectrum in the 100 most populated metro areas in America.
    William Wallace