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