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Sprint Plans Indoor, Outdoor Small Cells in 2014

Sarah Thomas
2/11/2014
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Sprint will begin deploying both indoor and outdoor small cells later this year, executives confirmed on the carrier's fourth-quarter earnings call Tuesday.

Steve Elfman, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s president of Network, Technology, and Operations, told analysts on the call that small cells are an important part of Sprint's network investment strategy and to expect deployments both indoors and outdoors this year.

Sprint was an early leader in 3G femtocells and has been working on deploying LTE picocells with its partners, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Samsung Corp. It has several enterprise deployments underway and is rumored to be working on small-cell-centric LTE networks in some states in the US, but it hasn't outlined its specific deployment plans so far. (See Top 6 Small Cells Movers & Shakers, Sprint Plans to Add 4G LTE Urban Heft in 2014, and Sprint Tees Up LTE Small Cells.)

Small cells will be an important component of Sprint's Network Vision, as it looks to fill in its gaps in coverage. Right now, it's focusing primarily on building out its tri-mode Spark LTE network in the 1900 MHz, 800 MHz, and 2.5 GHz frequencies. It currently has this latest network upgrade up and running in 14 cities, including Philadelphia and Baltimore, both launched today. (See Sprint Adds 70 Fresh LTE Markets and Sprint Feels the Churn Burn Before Spark.)

Its other priorities this year including achieving nationwide coverage with LTE, as well as launching voice-over LTE (VoLTE) and completing its HD voice rollout. Sprint announced last month that it is partnering with BroadSoft Inc. to enable IMS and VoLTE, but it didn't offer a timeline on when VoLTE would go live. Elfman said on the call today that it would have 3G voice over its 800 MHz spectrum, alongside nationwide HD voice, by midyear, which suggests that VoLTE might soon follow. (See Sprint Taps BroadSoft for VoLTE Transition.)

Overall in the fourth quarter, Sprint fared better than analysts were expecting. It lost $1.04 billion, down from $1.32 billion last year, and its revenues grew slightly from $9 billion a year ago to $9.14 billion this quarter.

But, despite the loss of funds, Sprint managed to add 477,000 new wireless customers in the fourth quarter, 58,000 of which were the more valuable postpaid subscribers. As a result, its wireless service revenue grew 5% from last year to $28.6 billion.

When asked about the potential acquisition of T-Mobile US Inc. -- the other topic on all investors' minds -- Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said he wouldn't comment on media speculation, but he didn't dismiss the possibility. (See Tough Road Ahead for Sprint/T-Mobile? and SoftBank's Son Keeps Sprint on Short Leash.)

"I've said consistently for some time that I believe that further consolidation in the industry outside of the big two, AT&T and Verizon, which are big enough, would be healthy, better for the country and for consumers, and I still believe that to be the case," said Hesse.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/13/2014 | 6:55:03 PM
Re: Help a newbie out??Definitions
OMG IT'S AS THOUGH YOU READ MY MIND!!!!!111!!!
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
2/12/2014 | 10:51:59 AM
Re: Small cell & VoLTE
That's what I was thinking too, but Bill Ho pointed out on Twitter that SPrint has discussed using them to help with 'speed augmentation' as well. They didn't break out whether they meant indoor or outdoors though.
pzernik
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pzernik,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/11/2014 | 10:07:41 PM
Re: Small cell & VoLTE
Small cells are a pure capacity play, and only in urban areas.  I don't think Sprint will solve any coverage issues with small cells (that will be Band 26).  I do see Band 25 being very useful for inbuilding, small cells and other high capacity situations.
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
2/11/2014 | 9:58:51 PM
Re: Help a newbie out??Definitions
Funny you asked:

http://www.lightreading.com/mobile/small-cells/know-your-small-cell-home-enterprise-or-public-access/a/d-id/707044?

There ya go.
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/11/2014 | 6:45:54 PM
Help a newbie out?
What are small cells? I'm guessing they're some kind of box that can be attached to a utility pole or something like that, and used to extend coverage in little corners that aren't covered by big, expensive towers? Or do they replace the need to build new towers?
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/11/2014 | 4:24:39 PM
Re: Small cell & VoLTE
Sprint needs help with coverage in any way it can get it. No matter whether it is indoors or outdoors, they just don't compete with Verizon on coverage.

For companies, this is a make-or-break proposition and why most organizations I have worked with on IT side use Verizon. 

The merger of Sprint with Japan-based Softbank was a sign that there would be increased capitalization in infrastructure investment. Small cells are a big part of this to help fill in a lot of gaps. 
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
2/11/2014 | 2:09:43 PM
Re: Small cell & VoLTE
Indoors should -- in theory -- be easier to deal with vis-a-vis interference with the macro network because they're using less RF power.
McCray
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McCray,
User Rank: Light Weight
2/11/2014 | 1:07:34 PM
Re: Small cell & VoLTE
I agree with you Sarah regarding your statement on O-DAS. I think even the Tier 1 operators are still identifying the right solutions (backhaul, antenna types, aesthetics, right-a-way issues). I think the number of application requirements out weight the available solutions.

The suppliers are working hard to develop variety as there is no one size fits all solution to support the various applications (tunnels, campus, outdoor malls, dense urban, rural, coastlines such as long island or pacific coast highway, etc.)

Then you have to factor in that like I-DAS O-DAS is being driven by neutral host providers, carriers, integrators, and even venue owners partnering. There is much experience in the O-DAS space particularly with the Crown Castles, Extenet Systems, American Tower, and revamped Mobilitie groups (Those most familiar with).

It 's going to be interesing how this plays out and one thing for certain is that the larger base station OEMs (ALU, Ericsson, Samsung, Huwaei) versus Small Cell suppliers have initial dominance in the O-DAS space. 

 
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
2/11/2014 | 12:11:51 PM
Re: Small cell & VoLTE
I agree, and it seems most operators are pursuing indoors first as the deployment plans (rights, backhaul, etc) are more clear cut. Sprint certainly needs help with its outdoor network too though.
McCray
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McCray,
User Rank: Light Weight
2/11/2014 | 12:07:47 PM
Re: Small cell & VoLTE
Sarah,

I would think indoor would be the priority given over 70%+ of subscriber traffic (voice/data) is generated indoors. I also think milimeter-wave transport will play a key backhaul role.
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