Leap Wireless International is “very willing” to consider extending its current wholesale deal with Sprint for 3G service to LTE, CEO Doug Hutcheson said at the Citi investor conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
“We’re very willing to look at that – we don’t see a single strategy of only doing it ourselves,” Hutcheson said in response to a question about whether Leap would consider expanding its LTE footprint through an MVNO deal with Sprint similar to its current arrangement with the operator.
Leap resells Sprint’s 3G service under its Cricket prepaid brand in areas outside its own network.
Though Hutcheson was only speaking in hypotheticals, a wholesale deal with Sprint could save Leap the considerable expense of buying spectrum and equipment to construct its own LTE network.
Leap launched its first LTE market in Tucson last month and has plans to cover 25 million people with the service by the end of 2012 but doesn’t have current plans to construct a nationwide network.
Sprint declined to comment on Hutcheson’s comments and has not said previously whether it would consider offering LTE on a wholesale basis to outside parties, but it has historically been friendly to MVNO arrangements on its 3G network.
Sprint announced in October it would phase out its use of Clearwire’s WiMAX service in favor of its own LTE network, which is under construction and set to launch around the middle of this year.
If Leap is able to secure the spectrum it needs to expand its LTE network, it may be able to hire Sprint to host the service on its equipment, a capability baked in to Sprint’s network modernization project.
Sprint CEO Dan Hesse hinted during a later interview at the same investor conference Thursday that he wasn’t ruling out new spectrum hosting deals.
“It’s more economical for anybody… to work in a network hosting environment versus greenfield,” Hesse said. “We clearly have a unique ability to host other spectrum.”
LightSquared hired Sprint last summer to host its 1.6 GHz spectrum, but the companies have put construction of the plan on hold as LightSquared works to resolve GPS interference issues that have held up the launch of its network.
Leap’s current MVNO deal with Sprint was part of a plan that began in August 2010 to expand its prepaid business with a music service, later dubbed Muve Music, offer nationwide roaming beyond its limited regional network, expand its smartphone lineup and start selling all-you-can-eat broadband plans. Its expansion into mobile broadband was later curtailed to free up space on its network for more lucrative smartphone customers.