Sprint boosts femtocell count to 950,000

Carrier discusses heterogeneous network architecture in filing
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Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) revealed that it now has 950,000 femtocells operating on its network, a substantial increase in just the past few months. In May the carrier announced that it had 600,000 femtocells in its network--which was a dramatic jump from the 250,000 femtocells Sprint said it had deployed as of March of 2011.

The carrier made the disclosure in a filing with the FCC, in which it described a meeting its regulatory affairs executives had earlier this week with FCC officials. In the filing, Sprint reiterated its concerns over backhaul and Wi-Fi access related to Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) proposed $3.9 billion AWS spectrum purchase and business agreements with four cable operators, which the FCC is likely to approve later this summer, according to reports. Sprint raised similar concerns with the FCC in June.

The Sprint representatives noted again that backhaul is a crucial issue for Sprint given that its Network Vision initiative includes heterogeneous network (HetNet) technology that covers femtocells, picocells and microcells, which the operator said require additional backhaul connections from incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) and cable TV providers.

Sprint said it is not formally opposed the proposed sale of AWS spectrum by SpectrumCo (a joint venture of cable companies Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks) and Cox Communications to Verizon, but it is concerned about the impacts that the bilateral commercial agreements Verizon is drawing up with each firm may have on Sprint's business if regulatory restrictions are not mandated.

In the filing, Sprint noted it has been a leading HetNet proponent and that femtocells have been a critical component of that, in addition to picocells and Wi-Fi offloading.

"The only potential competition to the ILECs for small-cell backhaul facilities are the cable companies," Sprint said. "Sprint's representatives explained that if the Cable Companies and Verizon were to stop competing in the provision of broadband wireless network access within their overlap areas, or were to compete less vigorously, Sprint's costs would rise materially."

In a separate filing in early July the cable companies rebutted Sprint's claims, arguing that nothing in the commercial agreements with Verizon "change the MSOs' ability and incentive to continue to compete vigorously and grow their backhaul businesses." The companies also said nothing would change about their desire and ability to expand Wi-Fi hotspots.

For more:
- see this FCC filing

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