In keeping with its plan to open up LTE networks next year, Sprint announced yesterday that its first LTE tower cluster — located in Kankakee, Illinois — is now operational, and some field testing has been completed. The towers are the first in a network that Sprint hopes will cover 250 million Americans by 2013, augmenting (and ultimately replacing) its current WiMAX 4G offerings. Although WiMAX will continue to be supported through 2015, Sprint has partnered with 4G company LightSquared to make LTE its primary network in the future.

Sprint's Network Vision announcements included a number of initiatives — the move to multi-mode cell sites being one, LTE being another; this update seems to indicate that it's made solid progress on both those fronts. Unfortunately for customers, we still won't be seeing any devices for the new network until the second half of 2012, when Sprint should launch several handsets. Although the deployment is a major step forward for Sprint's 4G coverage, the company's LTE rollout is still lagging behind that of several competitors, including US Cellular and Leap Wireless, both of which recently launched their own LTE test networks.