Sprint Plots Ramped-Up LTE

US carriers are moving ahead to upgrade speed and capacity on LTE networks, even as the hype builds around fixed and mobile 5G next-generation services arriving stateside between 2017 and 2020.

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) was the latest to reveal plans to further rev up its 4G LTE network on its fiscal first-quarter call Monday. The operator is deploying three-channel carrier aggregation (3CA) on its network to boost data speed and capacity on the network.

3CA involves combining 3 different radio channels -- 800MHz, 1900MHz and 2.5GHz in Sprint's case -- to boost performance. CFO John Saw explained on the call that "customers should see [peak] speeds in excess of 200Mbit/s" with 3CA. Current two-channel CA smartphones hit peaks between 50Mbit/s and 120Mbit/s.

"In terms of 3CA phones, we have five today that support three-channel carrier aggregation, including the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the S7 Edge," says Saw.

Saw notes that customers will need 3CA-compatible devices to get the full performance benefits. He adds that 3CA-enabled sites will boost capacity for all Sprint smartphone users.

"We expect to be rolling out upgrades to the network to support three-channel carrier aggregation in a couple of months," Saw says.

Sprint isn't the only carrier that is focused on upgrading its LTE networks. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) said last week that it expects to add 25,000 LTE carriers, or radio bands, this year. It is likely that T-Mobile US Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) will announce further LTE updates too.

The reason is simple: LTE will still be the workhorse network, long after 5G is deployed over the next decade. In fact, one of the next phases of upgrades will see LTE networks and devices -- using 4x4 antenna arrays -- that can approach gigabit speeds. (See Ericsson's 'Gigabit LTE' Will Benefit Current Smartphone Users Too.)

So LTE still has a long road to run for Sprint and other carriers, although CEO Marcello Claure notes that Sprint's ample 2.5GHz holdings and network "densification plan is also building the foundation for 5G." (See Sprint's Big Game: 5G at 2.5GHz.)

For all the latest news on 5G, visit the dedicated 5G site here on Light Reading.

The majority of Sprint's LTE traffic now runs over its 2.5GHz spectrum but it has only deployed about a third of the 160MHz spectrum it has across the US.

For the spring quarter, Sprint reported net operating revenue of $8 billion, which is flat in comparison to the same period last year. Sprint's operating loss grew to $302 million from a $20 million loss a year ago. The loss includes $113 million in non-recurring contract termination charges primarily related to the termination of a prior wholesale arrangement with Ntelos Holding Corp. Sprint lost $0.08 per share in the quarter, compared to a $0.01-cent-per-share loss one year ago.

Sprint's shares were up $1.28 -- or 27.71% -- at $5.90 over the day's trading.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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