Cox backpedals on 3G network, will remain Sprint MVNO

Cox Communications will decommission its 3G network infrastructure and continue using Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) CDMA network for its wireless service, the company confirmed to FierceWireless. Huawei was Cox's primary network equipment supplier.

Cox spokesman David Deliman said the company will "soon" decommission its 3G network as the MSO focuses on delivering wireless service to more than 50 percent of its footprint by year-end via its MVNO with Sprint.

"We believe this approach is good for our customers, allowing us to take the necessary steps to fulfill our promise to deliver a Cox experience that customers expect from us," he said. "In continuing with our successful wholesale model for 3G wireless services, we will accomplish speed to market while achieving greater operational efficiencies from a wholesale model that continues to improve." Deliman said Cox has already doubled its projected subscriber forecast, though he did not say how many wireless subscribers Cox has.

Deliman also did not say when the network infrastructure Cox has deployed will be decommissioned or what will happen to its vendor relationships. In addition to using Huawei for radio access network equipment, Cox contracted with Starent Networks for its multimedia core networking solutions; Cisco Systems acquired Starent for $2.9 billion in 2009. The switch in strategy is an about-face for Cox, which had deployed its own network infrastructure and intended to launch service on its own AWS spectrum.

A Huawei spokesperson told FierceWireless that the company could not confirm that Huawei equipment will be decommissioned as part of Cox's decision, but said that the decision "should not affect our engagement with Cox Communications. We are committed to continuously supporting our customers with high-quality products and services that best meet their needs."

An open question is what Cox will do with is spectrum holdings. Cox spent more than $550 million on spectrum in the past few years, including $304.6 million for 700 MHz spectrum. The company had planned to eventually use its 700 MHz holdings to deploy LTE and conducted tests on the spectrum in Phoenix and San Diego. Cox declined to comment on its LTE plans.

Earlier this month, Cox launched service via Sprint's network across the state of Rhode Island and communities it serves in Connecticut and Cleveland, Ohio. Cox's wireless service is also available in Hampton Roads, Va., Omaha, Neb., Orange County, Calif. and Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla. The MSO's key differentiator in wireless is "MoneyBack Minutes," which gives customers a 5-cent credit per each unused voice minute, up to $20 per month. The money appears as a credit on subscribers' bills. Cox's wireless service plans run from $40 per month for 450 minutes to $100 per month for unlimited talking, texting and Web access. The carrier offers a range of handsets, including Android-powered smartphones.

In late April Cox named wireless industry veteran Kelly Williams as its vice present of wireless product and operations. Williams succeeded Stephen Bye, who joined Sprint in March as vice president of technology development.

Cox's move to decommission its network is the MSO's second major misstep in wireless. In 2008, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications ended their wireless joint venture, branded Pivot, with Sprint.

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Article updated May 25 with comments from Huawei