Sprint Spark: Firestarter or Blowing Smoke?

In a blog post, Sprint CTO Stephen Bye says the company’s Spark upgrades should ultimately allow for maximum downstream speeds of 180 Mbps “by late next year.”

While Sprint may have bandwidth to burn, many major markets are still waiting for any flavor of Sprint LTE to launch, including Sprint’s slower (5 Mhz x 2) FD-LTE flavor on the PCS band.

Today Sprint Spark is delivering wireless peak speeds of 60Mbps. Where you can get it. It combines 4G FD-LTE at 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz and TD-LTE at 2.5GHz spectrum, with carrier aggregation in the 2.5GHz band.

With more than 120 MHz available at 2.6 GHz and 8×8 MIMO, Sprint has the capacity to blow away the competition. The company has demoed 2.6Gbps throughput on a single sector, using TD LTE with carrier aggregation and 8×8 MIMO.

Sprint selected Alcatel-Lucent, Samsung Electronics and NSN to supply and manage the buildout. According to Lucent, base stations equipped with beamforming and 8T8R technologies could increase cell range by a factor of 1.5 – theoretically reducing the need for cell sites by nearly 50 per cent.

But all the fancy technology in the world will not address Sprint’s lack of coverage and penetration. Verizon and AT&T own 20Mhz on the 700Mhz band. Sprint doesn’t. What Sprint needs more than anything is 600MHz spectrum. Their Nextel band at 800MHz (5Mhz x 2) is not going to cut it.

Of course, you could say the reverse is true; what the other carriers need more than anything is the capacity enabled by 2.5 GHz.

According to Verizon’s filing with the FCC (pdf), Sprint holds the most wireless spectrum of any national provider, while having about half the subscribers of Verizon or AT&T.

Sprint says it owns around 120 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in 90 percent of the top 100 U.S. markets and operates more than 5,000 cell sites on its 2.5 GHz spectrum. It plans to expand its 2.5 GHz LTE coverage to 100 million POPs by year-end.

Over the top video may be an idea whose time has come. Right now, Sprint is the only game in town. The loose cannon, of course, is Dish. Will this will be the year that network providers like Google, Apple and Amazon step up to the plate?

We may find out soon enough at Mobile World Congress.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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