Sprint exec acknowledges small cell ‘misunderstandings,’ promises expanded rollout in 2017

Sprint’s Günther Ottendorfer discusses the company's small cell strategy.

Sprint’s Günther Ottendorfer said the company’s small cell partners conducted a range of trials last year in order to determine fast and efficient methods to deploy small cells, a situation he said led to some misunderstandings in the market. However, he said those trials are largely behind the carrier and that he expects the carrier’s small cell efforts to expand this year.

“There was a learning process in 2016. We did a lot of trials in the beginning. We had some trials that led to misunderstandings, when you have a lot of boxes there because you were trialing different things, different—for example—transmission methods,” said Ottendorfer, Sprint’s chief operating officer for Technology, in a recent interview with FierceWireless. “But now we have streamlined the concepts and so I’m very confident that with streamlined and very elegant small cell solutions we will have a good rollout this year.”

Ottendorfer noted that one of Sprint’s small cell partners is Mobilitie, a company that was highlighted in a Wall Street Journal report last year detailing Sprint’s efforts to deploy services on its 2.5 GHz spectrum. The WSJ reported that, as part of Sprint’s network densification efforts, Mobilitie had filed permit applications under a wide variety of corporate names in cities across the country, leading to confusion. The company said at the time it would file for the applications under the name Mobilitie in the future.

“They’re one of our partners, we’re also working with others. And we are very happy with the partnership,” Ottendorfer said of Mobilitie. Indeed, Ottendorfer pointed to another Sprint small cell vendor, ExteNet Systems, which supplied the 200 small cells in Manhattan that Sprint touted at the end of last year. The carrier said the small cell deployment in New York boosted its median download speeds by 43 percent and its median upload speeds by 56 percent. “Mobilitie has a lot of employees from Clearwire, so there are a lot of connections between our company and Mobilitie. Mobilitie is also working for all four carriers. They’re not only working for us," Ottendorfer added.

Overall, Ottendorfer said Sprint will work to continue to refine its small cell deployment efforts as it works to densify its network.

“It is kind of an iterative process. You have to learn, then you adjust, then you optimize a little bit,” he said. “That is also why we continuously try to extend our toolbox. If we find a better way to do things, we don’t want to be stuck to one template. We want to do it in the most efficient way. So we try to continue to innovate around that.”

Ottendorfer declined to provide any specifics around Sprint’s small cell deployments, including the number of small cells the company has rolled out or its 2017 targets. “We want to do it and then talk about it,” he explained.

Sprint isn’t the only carrier working to speed the rollout of small cells, which promise to add speed and capacity to carrier networks. AT&T, Verizon and other carriers have said they too are in various stages of rolling out the devices, which are typically deployed on lightpoles and other fixtures in dense urban areas where signals from macro cell sites might not reach.

However, those in the industry have widely acknowledged the difficulties in deploying small cells, including finding adequate backhaul and obtaining the proper permits. Indeed, officials at the FCC have recently discussed ways to improve the permitting process for small cells.

Article updated Jan. 19 to correct information about Sprint's small cell deployment in Manhattan.

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