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SprintCatching up with Verizon Wireless and AT&T, Sprint is gearing up to launch its own 4G LTE network early next year.

The LTE network is expected to arrive during the first or second quarter of 2012, CNet reports, citing people familiar with the carrier’s plans. It will be a part of Sprint’s previously announced  Network Vision plan, which will cost the carrier somewhere between $4 billion and $5 billion over the next three to five years to revamp its network with new equipment.

The new network would give Sprint a more competitive offering against Verizon and AT&T’s LTE 4G networks. Sprint currently relies on Clearwire’s 4G network, which uses the slower WiMax standard. By relying on Clearwire (which Sprint also has a majority share in), the carrier was able to launch its 4G network long before its competitors. Now, LTE technology is trouncing WiMax in network speeds, leaving Sprint with the task of modernizing its network quickly.

As CNet’s Roger Cheng explains:

Sprint is opting to use its D-block spectrum, which it got from its acquisition of Nextel. Sprint plans to also use spectrum that will be freed up once it shuts down its Nextel network, which runs on a 2G technology called iDEN, best known for its walkie-talkie-like feature. The company previously said it expects to shut down the iDEN network by 2013.

Cheng says that Sprint will use the same FD-LTE standard as Verizon and Lightsquared, which recently signed an agreement to pay Sprint $9 billion to use its network infrastructure. Lightsquared is still having trouble getting its network off the ground, due to concerns from the FCC that it may interfere with GPS equipment.

Sprint will also maintain its relationship with Clearwire, which recently announced plans to build its own LTE network, though with the differing TD-LTE standard. Cheng says that Sprint will use equipment that runs both LTE standards, allowing Clearwire devices to run on its future network.

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