In the first agreement of its kind to involve a major U.S. carrier, Sprint Nextel announced yesterday that it has transferred management and operational responsibility for its wireline and wireless networks to Ericsson in a deal valued at between $4.5 billion and $5 billion. The seven-year outsourcing pact is expected to bring about significant cost savings for Sprint, which is transferring about 6,000 employees to a subsidiary of the Swedish telecom equipment maker that will be based near Sprint’s headquarters in Kansas. Although Ericsson already manages global telecom networks that serve more than 275 million subscribers, the agreement with Sprint represents Ericsson’s first network operation deal in North America. While Ericsson will assume responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance and monitoring of the Sprint Nextel networks, Sprint will retain full ownership and control of those networks. The deal is also expected to free up money and resources for Sprint that can be invested in other business lines to enable the company to compete more effectively against Verizon Wireless and AT&T. Asserting that the pact “is all about improving the customer experience,” Sprint network operations president Steve Elfman told reporters, “while we get the benefits of Ericsson’s expertise . . . we can focus our attention to bringing great devices, great services, [and] great applications to [customers].” Ericsson Vice President Scott Willis, meanwhile, touted the contract as “a significant opportunity for us to expand” and as “something we will look to leverage in North America going forward.”