Sprint Nextel Corp. has reached a long-rumored deal worth as much as $5 billion to turn over day-to-day management of its network to Ericsson.

Ericsson will take over daily operations and maintenance of Sprint's voice, data, and wire line networks. It will also take on 6,000 Sprint employees.

The deal will last for seven years, but Sprint maintains that it will not be selling any part of its network, and will still remain in control over network strategy and investment decisions.

No other U.S.-based carrier has followed through on the business-enhancing vision inherent in Network Advantage, said Steve Elfman, Sprint's president of network operations, in a statement.

Our best-ever network performance will become even better by leveraging Ericsson's world-class leadership in network services, their proprietary tools, and the knowledge of more than 30,000 dedicated and highly specialized service professionals to power Sprint's Now Network.

The program is aimed at delivering operational efficiencies for Sprint while further expanding Ericsson's network services business in North America, the company said.

The model has been successful worldwide and has been praised as an operational best practice for network operators, Sprint said.