Last month, The Wall Street Journal ran a story that the Illinois town of Kankakee — separated from Chicago by roughly 60 miles of suburbia and farmland — was "the only spot Sprint will name where [LTE] is up and running."
There's only one problem: I can't find it.
My suspicions were first aroused in a conversation with a Sprint spokesperson last week, who was not familiar with the story and said that she was unaware of any commercially operating LTE towers for the carrier anywhere in the country. I was told that even if it was running — which was no guarantee — it was a test network at best. So I hopped in my car this weekend, Sprint Galaxy Nexus in hand, and made the trek out of my urban comfort zone and into the heartland proper in search of a 4G signal that may or may not exist.
Kankakee isn't a very big town; it's the kind of place where if you stop paying attention for a minute, you'll find yourself on an arrow-straight state route that leads quite literally into the middle of nowhere. It's big enough, though, to have a city center lined with a grid of streets and avenues. I drove probably half of them yesterday. While puttering around, I got a notification that there was a software update available. I applied the 15-odd megabyte update — which took over 25 minutes on Sprint's relatively glacial 3G network there — in the hopes that it'd magically spring LTE into action. No dice.
Cancel your travel plans
I updated the phone's carrier profile and PRL. That didn't help, either. I was holding a pretty decent CDMA signal the entire time that indicated EV-DO Rev. A in the phone status screen, but that's it. I would expect the LTE signal to be in that same spectrum (1,900MHz), but after an hour of passing local landmarks like Greater Kankakee Airport, the Kankakee River, and local dining establishments Poor Boy and Poor Boy Too, I was resigned to my fate: if Sprint LTE exists here, it certainly isn't open to the Galaxy Nexus- and Viper-carrying public. Not consistently, at least.
Interestingly, my review unit of the Galaxy Nexus came with LTE disabled — I had to go into Settings > More > Mobile networks > Network Mode to change the setting from "CDMA" to "LTE / CDMA." Fortunately, I'd caught that before I ever even set foot in Kankakee, but it didn't matter; there was no LTE for me to enjoy either way. (For what it's worth, I was unable to get a WiMAX signal on a Sprint-branded Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch or LTE on an AT&T-branded One X, either, but I never expected to.)
Sprint's LTE launch, which will start with 1,900MHz overlays before moving to reclaimed iDEN spectrum at 800MHz and Clearwire's TD-LTE service in the 2.5GHz band, is still on track as far as we know. Launch markets include Baltimore, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Sprint's hometown of Kansas City.
One place you won't find a good Sprint LTE signal right now, though? Kankakee, Illinois — so cancel your travel plans.