Sprint Nextel has signed a technology deal worth up to $5 billion with Alcatel-Lucent , Ericsson and Samsung <005930.KS> to pave the way toward easier future upgrades and cut costs.

The No. 3 U.S. mobile service said the net savings from the project, which includes phasing out its older iDen network, would be up to $11 billion over a seven-year period.

Fundamentally the network performance improves dramatically, Bob Azzi, a senior vice president for Sprint told Reuters. Customers will notice the difference.

For its highest-speed wireless data services Sprint depends on the WiMax network of Clearwire Corp , in which Sprint has a 54 percent stake.

According to reports companies that competed for the deal also included Huawei ZTE <0763.HK>.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew; editing by Derek Caney)