The coming launch of Samsung's "pure Google" Galaxy Nexus smartphone on Sprint Nextel's network this week helps the No. 3 carrier (by subscriber base) catch up with its more popular rivals in the device lineup.
But in an unusual move, Sprint is releasing the phone, which is compatible with 4G long-term evolution data networks, before Sprint's LTE network launches, which won't happen until midyear. The Nexus hits Sprint stores Sunday, with those who pre-order early enough eligible to get it two days earlier.
Also on April 22, Sprint will launch the 4G capable Viper by LG, for $99 with a two-year contract.
3G for Now
For now, the LTE-capable phones will work with Sprint's 3G network, and not use the carrier's high-speed WiMAX data network, which it also calls 4G.
Handset expert Peter Han of Current Analysis told us that Sprint's move is unique in that Sprint has no publicly accessible LTE network at the moment, but he noted that both AT&T and Verizon Wireless initially launched LTE on a limited scale while offering LTE-capable smartphones nationwide. (Verizon initially offered LTE only for computer modem users before adding smartphones several months later.)
For Sprint, it makes little sense to hold back on the Nexus while it is already being sold by rival Verizon Wireless (which has the largest LTE network, but still has some gaps.)
"Sprint's LTE network is initially launching in a couple of metros, so the majority of its consumers will not have access to LTE at launch [anyway]," Han said.
Adding more value to the Sprint version of the Nexus, its near-field communication chip will be active, allowing users to use Google Wallet for payments with their phones. As a promotion Google is offering early adopters -- those who open a Wallet account within a week of activation -- a $10 credit, with an addition $40 in the first three weeks. (continued...)