Sprint has completed lab testing of the LTE TDD radios that will give its network a significant speed boost and plans to start overlaying them on its existing equipment by mid-year.
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) Chief Network Officer John Saw said on the company's first-quarter earnings call Tuesday that the carrier has completed lab testing of 8T8R (8 transmitters and 8 receivers in one box) basestation equipment with all three of its vendors -- Samsung Corp. , Nokia Networks , and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) -- and has already begun field testing. (See John Saw to Become Sprint Network Boss, Sprint Sparks Up Vendors for Faster 4G LTE, and Sprint's LTE TDD Future to Boost Current Vendors.)
When used at the cell site in conjunction with MIMO (multiple input, multiple output antennas), 8T8R can give Sprint more range out of the 2.5GHz LTE TDD spectrum it acquired from Clearwire. SoftBank Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son has boasted that this technology will deliver a significant speed hike to Sprint customers in markets with the spectrum deployed. Saw said it will begin overlaying 8T8R on existing equipment by the middle of the year. (See Defining 4G: What the Heck Is LTE TDD?)
The middle of the year has become an important deadline for the US's third-largest wireless operator as it struggles to retain customers and improve its network. At that time, Sprint's rip-and-replace of its 3G network will be substantially complete; its LTE network, which now reaches more than 225 million people, will cover 250 million, and HD voice will be rolled out nationwide. (See Sprint's Hesse: HD Voice Goes Nationwide in July .)
Sprint also announced six additional Spark markets today, including Orlando and Oakland, bringing its total to 24 markets. It offers 14 devices capable of supporting the tri-band 800MHz, 1.9GHz, and 2.5GHz spectrum, including the recently launched Samsung Galax S5 and HTC One. Sprint is a quarter of the way to its goal of covering 100 US markets with Spark in three years. (See Stephen Bye: Sprint's Network Visionary and Igniting the Future: Sprint Spark.)
These improvements are crucial for Sprint as it looks to reverse its churn dynamics. Network issues are the biggest cause of customer churn, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse reiterated on the first-quarter earnings call. Sprint lost 231,000 postpaid customers and 364,000 prepaid customers in the quarter, due primarily to these growing pains. The carrier finds the metrics improve in any market that that has been at least 70% covered with LTE for 10 months, and Hesse said churn should improve in the second half of the year. (See Sprint Feels the Churn Burn Before Spark.)
Sprint's Framily plans, the fastest-growing in its history with 4 million customers now signed up, should also help its cause. But Hesse admitted none of that really matters until Sprint's network is up to par. (See Sprint Launches No-Sharing 'Framily' Plans.)
"The network is obviously a crucial foundation for being competitive," Hesse said. "It almost doesn't matter what your offer price is if your network is not strong."
Overall for the first quarter Sprint reported a net loss of $151 million on revenue of $8.88 billion, although it was a 77% improvement over the pre-Softbank-acquistion first quarter of last year. One bright spot continues to be its wholesale program, which added 212,000 customers in the quarter. Sprint managed to add 516,000 tablets in the quarter, more than the 313,000 AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) added, but shy of the 634,000 Verizon Wireless notched up. (See AT&T Gets 81% of Subs Off Unlimited Data and Verizon Loses Its Postpaid Net Add Crown.)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading