In employee newsletter that was leaked yesterday, Sprint revealed that the shut down of the iDEN network, used by Sprint/Nextel and some Boost Mobile phones, will begin in April. Sprint had originally said that the phaseout of iDEN would start in 2013.
Boost's iDEN devices are the Motorola push to talk walkie talkie phones that have model numbers starting with the letter "i" like the i856, 1475 and i1.
The details are in the Sprint Playbook newsletter, which BriefMobile obtained from a Sprint employee. Here's a scan of the newsletter (click to enlarge):
What Sprint calls it a "retuning" actually seems to mean turning off iDEN on a number of towers and using the spectrum freed up for other services, most likely LTE.
According to Sprint, shutting down the towers won't effect outdoor iDEN coverage, but may reduce indoor coverage. They also say that they won't completely eliminate iDEN service in any market until next year.
For iDEN postpaid customers unhappy with the reduced coverage, Sprint will be offering free migration to Sprint CDMA and a new CDMA phone for 99¢. Sprint will also allow existing postpaid iDEN customers to cancel their contracts without paying an early termination fee.
I'm all for getting rid of iDEN, it's an outdated proprietary system with glacially slow data speeds that's expensive to operate. The former iDEN spectrum will allow Sprint to increase 3G data capacity and build out their 4G LTE network. I've had a chance to play with the new Sprint Direct Connect push to talk phones and they seem every bit as quick and reliable for walkie talkie use as the iDEN devices.
As a current Boost iDEN customer, I do wonder what Sprint has planned for us. For many years Boost was an iDEN only service. Not long ago there were over 5 million users on Boost iDEN and I suspect that there are still a couple of million. Because they are prepaid, Boost iDEN customers can migrate to CDMA for no charge. They do have to buy a new phone and there are currently no Boost walkie takie CDMA phones.
The phaseout will undoubtedly effect Boost iDEN service. This is a change initiated by Sprint and not the user. If a Boost iDEN user loses service in their home, workplace or anywhere else they reply on their phone, I hope that Sprint will do the right thing and replace the iDEN phone with a comparable CDMA model, with PTT if the user desires, at no charge.