As part of its Network Vision project, Sprint is shutting down iDEN so that it can use the spectrum to deploy high speed LTE 4G. That makes perfect sense because iDEN is outdated technology that is expensive to operate and Sprint needs LTE to compete.
If you are a Boost Mobile customer this shutdown will only effect you if you are using a Motorola i Series phone like the i465, i475, i856 or i1. These phones all have the Walkie-Talkie or Push To Talk feature and model names consisting of the letter "i" followed by one to three numbers. About 2 million of Boost's estimated 5 million customers were using iDEN phones at the begiining of 2012.
The shutdown will occur in two phases.
Phase one is shutting down a third of the iDEN towers which will happen this year. The iDEN network, which had 20 million customers a few years ago now only has about 6 million so the network does has lots of extra capacity. According to Sprint, the shutdowns won't effect outdoor coverage, but that in-building coverage may be reduced.
Sprint is using the New Orleans, LA area as a test market for the iDEN shutdown. The surplus iDEN towers were decommissioned in New Orleans earlier this year. Beginning this month and extending through July, Sprint will shut down surplus Nextel towers in the rest of the country.
Phase two is shutting down the rest of the iDEN network. Sprint has said that will happen next year. According to a leaked internal document, Sprint is waiving ETFs (early termination fees) for postpaid iDEN customers in New Orleans who leave between 12/1/2011 and 3/31/2011, so I think Sprint is aiming to finish the the shutdown there by the end on March 2012. For the rest of the county, ETFs will be waived from 2/1/2012 through 7/31/2012 and Sprint has announced that the entire iDEN network will be gone by the end of June next year.
Sprint and Boost are initiating this change, not the user. I expect that Boost will do what they can to help existing Boost iDEN customers switch to Boost CDMA at no cost to the customer. Apparently this is already happening. A Prepaid Phone News reader who called Boost about the shutdown was offered a free CDMA phone. The phone offered was a Motorola C290 or W385. These are both older flip phones without memory card support or a media player. The C290 doesn't even have Bluetooth. Hopefully as the shutdown gets closer Boost will offer to replace iDEN phones with comparable CDMA models. That means CDMA PTT models for customers who use the walkie talkie feature. There are currently no Boost CDMA PTT phones available.
As you would expect, Sprint is treating the more profitable postpaid iDEN customers better. According to TechnoBuffalo, any iDEN postpaid customer can get a new CDMA phone for 99¢. The phones offered are pretty nice too, including the HTC Evo 3D Android phone or four Direct Connect (PTT) phones, the Motorola Admiral, which is a PTT Android along with the ruggedized Kyocera DuraPlus, DuraCore or DuraMax. Postpaid customers do need to sign a new two year contract to get the 99¢ phones so Sprint can afford to be generous.
TechnoBuffalo is also reporting that as of tomorrow, Sprint will no longer sell iDEN phones in its retail stores.
As of today, Boost is still selling a couple of iDEN models on the boostmobile.com website. There is no warning on the sales page that iDEN is going away in just over a year.
If you are Boost iDEN customer and are satisfied with the service, I recommend doing nothing for now, particularly if you use PTT. As the end of iDEN service gets nearer I expect Boost will offer a wider selection of CDMA phones to iDEN customers who want to switch, including CDMA Direct Connect models.