As Sprint, the nation’s third-largest carrier, begins its long-overdue nationwide 4G LTE rollout, those keeping their fingers crossed for some crazy fast download speeds on a next-generation 4G LTE iPhone will be in for an unpleasant surprise.

While the carrier will keep unlimited data, whether or not the next iPhone has LTE (and we know the Now Network will be eligible for a 4G LTE iPhone), the handset will theoretically achieve much greater downloads speeds on rival AT&T’s and Verizon’s networks.

Here’s why…

Earlier this morning, Sprint shared some updates during a breakfast at the CTIA Wireless trade show. We heard earlier they’ll flip the switch on 4G LTE in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio in mid-year 2012, with other markets to follow later this year.

But Sprint’s 4G LTE won’t be as fast as rival Verizon’s or AT&T’s because the rollout will initially be in 5-MHz channels versus Verizon’s 10-MHz channels.

Writing for PCMag, Sascha Segan lays it out nicely:

Peak speeds won’t hit the levels we’ve seen on Verizon and AT&T of 30-40Mbps. But the network will be more consistent and more convenient, with reliable average speeds and faster handoffs between 3G and 4G than Verizon is seeing.

In fact, Sprint is managing 4G LTE rollout in a way which won’t require a redesign of existing iPhones, the author notes.

Shifting voice calls to the new 1x-Advanced technology lets Sprint carry more calls in less spectrum, opening up airwaves for more 3G data on devices like Apple’s iPhone. Faster, Ethernet-based backhaul dramatically increases the number of megabits each cell site can carry.

Moving voice calls to abandoned Nextel 800-MHz spectrum opens up even more 1900-MHz data bandwidth for hungry iPhone users, without the iPhone having to include another radio band.

Also, this nice-to-have:

Sprint is also working on background apps that will automatically connect its phones to Wi-Fi networks, further improving the apparent data performance of 3G phones.

If it wasn’t for the iPhone, Sprint would have actually lost 400,000 customers in the first quarter of this year. They activated 1.5 million iPhones, 44 percent of which were to new customers, or approximately 660,000 new iPhone subscribers.

Despite its success with the iPhone, board of directors punished Sprint CEO Dan Hesse for betting the farm on Apple’s handset, forcing him to agree to a pay cut by a whopping $3.25 million in this year alone.

Last year, Sprint prepaid an astounding $15.5 billion to Apple for the iPhone, the move some watchers opined put the company at a risk of bankruptcy.

Sprint, like other carriers, is having issues with high iPhone subsidy.

Apple’s device carries some of the heftiest subsidies in the industry, about $200 higher than other manufacturers.

While this report will admittedly disappoint some of you, the fact remains that Sprint is the only major carrier in the United States to offer unlimited data to its 4G LTE customers.

That’s gotta be worth something, right?

  • I have an EVO 4G. And over the last 3 years this phone has been really good. I got it rooted and its has been smoothly running. At first I didn’t have WiMax in my area. But when it came to my city it was reliable and consistent. So I am fine with LTE being half a fast as Verizon’s as long as its reliable. My friends Verizon Galaxy Nexus has LTE but when ever I have seen it in action is gets disconnected if his locations shifts by a mile. Where as on WiMax I can travel 20-30 miles, as long as I’m in 4G area, and still manage to hold a signal.

  • Anonymous

    If it’s truly unlimited I don’t see a problem with 10 to 20Mbps, if that’s what 5MHz channels will do, for me 30 to 40mbps doesn’t excite me. I’m pretty happy with the AT&T 3G speed I get in Phoenix, I can watch live television or HBO live with no hiccups. So to me if it’s 10Mbps and unlimited that could change my mind to switch, but will they be like every other company in a year and say you get no more unlimited. Unlimited is 3gigs.

  • Anonymous

    as long as it’s unlimited and is reliable, i dont mind if Sprint’s LTE iPhone is slower than ATT and VZW.

    • Anonymous

      I haven’t had Sprint since 2006 (got the iPhone in 2007). I had the a100 back then (sprints answer to the razor) and it was an awesome phone, but coverage was very spotty. If it has improved I may consider Sprint. Unlimited data is very tempting.

      at least i think thats what phone it was, 2006 was a long time ago.

  • Ali Reza

    I live in L.A. and have an Iphone 4S with SPRINT. SPRINT SUCKS! Super slow data speeds and constant dropped calls. They have used the upgrade excuse since October for why I have 0.17 mb/s download speeds. I hope Sprint goes out of business! Who wants Unlimited Data when it’s at Dialup Speeds??? Sprint Sucks if I didn’t mention it before.

    • TheDarkKnight

      Then leave the network and stop complaining like a bitch.

      • Miguel Meza

        its not as easy just leave the network. you have a contract and you MUST pay

      • msohail

        Well then pay or don’t complain.

  • lymkb3

    If you have no 4g reception at the moment with Sprint, bottomline is leave and don’t look back if your priority is having fast data/network connection. The wimax 4g is NOT going to be expanded, where ever it is available now is the only place it will be available. If you want to wait for 4gLTE I don’t recommend it because their 3g speeds are absolute shit. The fastest i have been able to get on 3g was 0.12Mbps. I am fortunate enough to live in an area covered by the wimax 4g so i get decent speeds on that around 4Mbps so i can actually use the unlimited data that they so overly emphasize.

    • All speeds on my HTC Evo 4G and only using EvdoA 3G towers.

      Atlanta, Ga D/L 1184 KBPS U/L 566 Ping 171
      Ringgold, Ga D/L 615 U/L 368 Ping 99
      Newnan, Ga D/L 120 U/L 265 Ping 386
      Columbus, Oh D/L 373 U/L 145 Ping 204ms

      Some places do give me shit speeds, though, like Calhoun, Ga D/L 23 U/L 171 Ping 1430.

      My average speed on 3g is around 200ish kpbs. Not the top, but not terrible. Some areas are have terrible speeds because they are upgrading a lot of shit right now.

      They aren’t the fastest, but they are by far the best deal. As always, make sure you do your homework before you agree to a contract. Checking more than their coverage maps is a very good start!

  • With Sprint I have saved loads of money, have got great customer service, and enjoyed 4g WiMax early without any restrictions–WiMax worked great for me, 7mb/s download, what’s to complain about? Now they are upgrading the 4 LTE with lower latency and even faster downloads. Great!

    Sprint doesn’t have the best in-network coverage but they let me roam Verizon, including for data, without any additional fees.

  • srikant p

    f i buy an locked at & t iphone 4s and i unlock it using softwares and use it in india do i still have to pay huge amount of bills to at & t…can u tell me the procedure to buy iphone 4s in us ….

  • Anonymous

    I personally am beginning to rethink “unlimited” data. Frankly, I can’t use it due to Sprint’s sluggish network performance. I have moved to Wifi in place of Sprint’s sluggish unlimited data, so as a result, I’ve undergone some ‘behavior modification’. This shift in behavior makes it easier for me to live within another carrier’s data limit.

    I think Sprint had a bad break with Clearwire/WiMax, but as a postpaid customer I resent having the same services offered to prepaid customers at a fraction of the price I pay; I feel “pimped”.

    Sprint needs to open up it’s mouth right now and state when LTE switches will be flipped and in what cities. If not they could continue to loose face and customers to other carriers.

  • Simon Stiphanos

    “If it wasn’t for the iPhone, Sprint would have actually lost 400,000 customers in the first quarter of this year.”

    That’s making the assumption that every Sprint customer that purchased an iPhone had a likelyhood of zero percent of purchasing a different smartphone. Shoddy journalism. Don’t come to conclusions for the reader, especially if you yourself have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • ChrisRansom

    Sprint pisses me off

  • Sprint’s true golden opportunity was WiMAX, not the iPhone. iPhone populatity is quickly dying out, and Sprint was the only carrier to be experimenting with WiMAX – a 4G technology that kicks the can off LTE. Carriers chose LTE because it allowed them to continue their price gouging three-system price scheme (voice, sms, data) when the technology would all work much better if it was all data-based. Even home phone lines aren’t through the phone company anymore – people bundle them with their cable internet (VoIP). Sprint missed this opportunity because it’s always trying to play with the two big kids. Verizon & AT&T can out-invest sprint so many times over, it’s not really possible for them to get footing. And with Verizon literally killing its own business with the ‘share everything’ plan, Sprint had a chance to disrupt the industry with WiMAX. Think about it – ALL your services – home phone, mobile devices and even your desktop computers at home… all connected by an awesome, fast 4G connection. Everything unified & integrated, all you have to do is connect – no wires, no routers, just Sprint service. When Verizon believes this “share everything” plan is worth moving people’s $125/mo. bills to $320/mo., WiMAX sounds like a great deal. $200 a month – internet everywhere, all devices, with VoIP. It could have been revolutionary and it could have made Sprint profitable again.

    But everyone just has to follow the other company while it puts them out of business. Too busy trying to be the company who innovated itself to lucrative profits that they forgot how to innovate themselves and threw an opportunity to save the company away for, yes, the iPhone.

    CEOs lucky he didn’t lose his job. $15b is absolutely unacceptable, especially for a company already in over their head. Verizon apparently doesn’t want my business anymore, and AT&T’s deceptive practices make me ill, so I thought ‘thankfully, Sprint’s still around.’ When I took a look at Sprint’s LTE benchmarks, I realized that the company must’ve needed that $15b to invest in the towers. Now it has iPhone and still no one will buy it because the data network is so slow.

    And on a sidenote: Apple will not install LTE in the iPhone 5. I know people like to speculate (or dream, actually), but fact of the matter is that T-Mobile doesn’t even have a single piece of pre-4G (LTE) technology – they have an upgraded 3G technology called HSPV+ that is nothing like 4G. AT&T lies about 4G as well, although unlike T-Mobile, they’re investing in LTE and are trying to get caught up with Verizon. Meanwhile, they deceive customers into thinking their 3G HSPV+ is ‘4G’. First of all, 4G does not even exist yet and these companies are using it as a marketing term to screw customers into thinking they’re getting the wide range, balaned/synchronous bandwidth, speed and latency of LTE technology when all 3G HSPV+ can provide is a connection that is faster than the 3GPP of a few years ago. 3G HSPV+ can acheive about half of LTE in theory, but in the real world, you have to be extremely close to a tower for it to be fast. As you move away, latency & speed goes down to similar 3GPP performance – extremely slow. Apple cannot jump on this bandwagon because the technology does not exist/has not been standardized yet, and the iPhone 4 already supports HSPV+. LTE chips would not make sense for Apple, especially after AT&T already made its customers believe they had a ‘4G’ device when it’s 3G, so anyone that has an AT&T iPhone already believes that ‘4G’ on the iPhone is slow. Next up, the LTE chips would be worthless on T-Mobile because they don’t have the technology at all. And on Sprint, the LTE speeds are no where near high enough to warrant the extra hardware. If it does offer LTE, my prediction would be it would only be available at Verizon and less likely – AT&T. Although we should note that AT&T does not have nearly the amount of LTE spectrum as Verizon and the network has always had trouble keeping up with the demands of the iDevices, even on HSPA+.

    Also have to consider LTE chip’s affect on battery life, and unless they’re able to immensely improve the battery for the iPhone 5, it would be a gamble for Apple. Apple does not like to roll the dice. For Sprint, the iPhone 5 not being an impressive device could turn the already extremely risky $15b investment upside down and drop the company with it. I’m not impressed at all with the 4S itself, and the fire is burning out for them, I believe. I’ve only heard that it will be missing the YouTube app (which was terrible on iOS as it was, but necessary) and the Maps app will be refreshed with one that does not link up with Google and therefore will miss out on the gmaps accuracy, intelligence and geo features. Considering that middle class Americans had not a dime to spare, but mobile phone bills went up significantly this year and will continue to climb as customers either shift from Verizon to other carriers after decades of being a VZW account-holder, or if Verizon somehow successfully retains them despite some will be forced to pony up double what they used to pay if they want to change plans/add devices and somehow justify switching to “$hare everything” and many others who will lose unlimited data and look to carriers who can offer a more realistic amount of data for the amount of money VZW & AT&T want for a measly 2GB.

    This year, I believe, will force many smartphone users back to dumbphones and cause a flood of customers into the prepaid market as they duck to avoid these costs. The initial glitz & glam of smartphones is over and customers are not as engaged in the devices or as financially secure as they were when the smartphone craze started. I have seen an overwhelming amount of people downgrade to feature phones and continue to enjoy their smartphones while connected to wifi. Carriers could be in for a rude awakening as they continue to push customers into what is just nonsense for data and not letting up on forcing them to purchase many-times the amount of minutes they use. I have the smallest denomination of minutes available on Verizon and still waste 330 of them a month – I’m not happy about it considering they already make plenty of money from the data plan. Marketers and carriers are much more addicted to mobile devices as consumers now, and they need to realize that and become more competitive because many are realizing that they could drop their plan, get a 50 minute a minute per month prepaid and use their smart device on a wifi connection, which is much faster and reliable than any of the carriers can currently provide. The ecosystem is attempting to assert itself as an inelastic demand, much like cable did before it began losing customers in packs. Too many are already enjoying all the extra money they have from canceling their expensive phone plans – especially when finding a much better offer outside the Verizon & AT&T oligopoly. And just watch, I’m calling it now – AT&T has always followed suit with Verizon, by Christmas-time, AT&T will lose its mind and triple the cost of it’s services that too are already over what customers are willing to spend. The telecoms will hurt mobile this upcoming year by thinking “everybody needs these, I can make ridiculous profits” (the new Verizon) to a more realistic view of it “people enjoy these, I should be priced more competitively to get even more people on a data pack.” Mobile data sharing was necessary for family plans – doubling the cost of data and quadrupling the cost of each line was a huge slap in the face to loyal customers who made very clear the need to save money on the services and/or be able to add more smartphones so all can enjoy. They ignored the families and wanted to make sure they got some big profits from those with multiple devices – then tried to act like they did families such a great favor by offering this reconfiguration. The flighty iPad fad kids have not been loyal customers for a decade like many of these families, and Verizon will have the country’s most powerful LTE network with half the users it used to have and no one to pay for the upgrades… Sad day when a company gets this big of an ego.

    • The carriers do NOT own or install their own towers. Most, if not all of the carriers lease the transponders from leasing companies that build, maintain, and provide the equipment. Every six feet of space on the tower houses a different carrier, ie sprint has 30 year contracts that renew every 5 years from a company I cannot disclose, to the tune of $2800/mo. They have not expanded wimax because of the launch of the LTE network, diverting the investment to a greater technology, thus Wimax not being true 4g. 4g is unable to penetrate most outer skins of the average building, hence the instructions to “be sure to near a window”. You will notice however that the LTE and it’s frequency will penetrate into the “basement”. Stay tuned for the actual launch.

      • dannyhex

        iphone popularity is getting higer and higher every year since 2007. Nice try. The statistics show each phone released sells better then the last one.

      • Apple has perfected marketing, but not the devices, ergo no one else has either. However if I’m going to locked into a system, it’s going to be one that has more global compatibility. As far as I know my voice command works pretty well with my Android device, yet Apple is still struggling with their gimmick based one “Siri”.

    • Erik

      No Lte on iphone 5?

  • I have Sprint right now. I have a Samsung Galaxy S II. I went in for the 4G data and the fact it was unlimited. Now in the past month and a half I’m having problems with phone calls. I don’t hear ring tones when I call someone and half the time the calls don’t connect. I’ve been told repeatedly by the Sprint store and their 1-800 customer care that it’s a network issue. Nothing is wrong with my phone. I’ve also noticed my data speeds going down. I was told that the network upgrades would be done by September 7th. Here we are at September 22nd 2012 and I still have trouble with phone calls. I’m thinking of dropping out. I’m hoping I can get out with out paying the Early Termination Fee based on the argument that they aren’t holding up their end of the bargain to provide a service I pay for. If I can’t connect a phone call when I need to (emergency), what’s the point? Plus AT&T was very kind to offer an ETF credit if I have to pay to get out of Sprint. Very tempting with the trade-in credit they offered me for my Galaxy.

  • hunTab

    Sprint in Phoenix? What a joke! Their data speed is slower than 3G. Here’s an extensive research done in the Valley.

  • I’m with us cellular. Sprint bought my carriers mid west area. I’m hoping for better service especially the LTE. I thought the unlimited data sounded good until I read that you can’t run a hotspot/tether without a plan starting at 2g. For 19.99. So the data isn’t a pluss. After reading a few comments here I think I might look into another carrier. That is costly so I guess I’ll found out here soon.

  • Cory Lay

    This is a lie. Sprint’s 4g lte is 10 times faster than Verizon.