Report: Sprint to deploy 70K small cells nationwide with help of a network partner

Sprint (NYSE: S) will launch a project this month that ultimately will involve the deployment of 70,000 small cells, according to a report by RBC Capital Markets analysts Jonathan Atkin and Brian Hyun. But the small cell network will likely be constructed and owned by a network partner, allowing Sprint to keep the small cell expenses off its balance sheet.

The initial phase of this nationwide project will be completed by the end of 2016 and Sprint will likely use equipment makers Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Airspan and Mobilitie for the project.

According to RBC, network elements are going to be "mounted on utility posts, lamp posts and similar infrastructure." The analysts also said that the LTE small cells will have integrated wireless backhaul, thereby speeding deployment time.

Vendors will be finalized by mid-July, RBC said,  adding that "the project is about to enter the site acquisition, engineering and permitting phase."

In the report, Atkin and Hyun also said that Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is currently the most active carrier both in terms of macro cell and small cell deployment, while AT&T (NYSE: T) is currently not active in terms of leasing new sites. AT&T appears to be moving relatively slowly with the turn-down of legacy Leap Wireless sites, RBC said.

This isn't the first time Sprint has partnered with another company for its network. In 2009 Sprint inked a $5 million, seven-year deal with Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) in which Ericsson assumed responsibility for the day-to-day services, provisioning and maintenance of Sprint's networks. Sprint, however, retained ownership and control of its network assets, network strategy and investment decisions.

Last week Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure met with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez about the carrier's expansion plans in Miami. The Miami Herald has reported that Claure wanted city and county officials to expedite permitting and give Sprint access to government-owned buildings for transmitters related to a $75 million network initiative in the market.

Miami appears to be the launch market for Sprint's Next-Generation Network strategy. In May, Claure said that the new strategy would give Sprint the No. 1 or No. 2 ranked network in every market within the next two years.

For more:
- see this Miami Herald report

Related articles:
Sprint CEO Claure meets with Miami's mayor, providing window into future network plans
Sprint CTO Stephen Bye resigns from company amid new network densification program
Analyst: SoftBank's Son taking more active role in Sprint's network as densification planning nears completion
Sprint's Bye: '2014 is the year'