Sprint’s iPhone 7 could go up to 200 Mbps in some markets due to 3-channel carrier aggregation

Sprint offers a chart that shows the nationwide, population-weighted average spectrum holdings of major U.S. wireless carriers. Source: Sprint

Apple’s new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus devices support multiple carrier aggregation technology, which could allow Sprint to offer speeds on the gadget up to 200 Mbps in the markets where it is deploying three-channel carrier aggregation.

“We believe that multiple CA possibly being included in the iPhone 7/7+ provides a unique opportunity for Sprint,” wrote Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche in a note to investors. “We believe this will provide a material advantage for Sprint because of their vast spectrum holdings.”

Sprint confirmed to FierceWireless that Apple's iPhone 7 supports two- and three-channel carrier aggregation on Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum band.

Fritzsche noted that Sprint’s shares jumped from around $6.40 per share prior to Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone 7 to around to a high point of almost $7 per share the day after. “We believe Apple has dual-sourced the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus modems between QCOM and INTC. We note both modems support multiple carrier aggregation (CA) but we might not know specifics until the device teardowns when they are made available 9/16. This would mark the first version of iPhone to support multiple CA,” Fritzsche wrote.

Representatives from Apple did not immediately respond to questions from FierceWireless on the topic.

Sprint’s Günther Ottendorfer confirmed to FierceWireless that the carrier is offering two-channel carrier aggregation in its 2.5 GHz spectrum in 237 markets, and has launched three-channel carrier aggregation in Chicago and Kansas City. Specifically, Sprint operates 500 three-channel carrier aggregation sites in Chicago and expects to have more than 100 sites deployed in Kansas City by the end of this month.

Ottendorfer, Sprint’s COO for technology, said the operator will expand its three-channel carrier aggregation service to additional markets throughout this year, but declined to provide specifics.

Ottendorfer said the carrier currently sells half a dozen phones from the likes of Samsung and HTC that can support the technology. However, he said none of those devices currently are able to access Sprint’s three-channel carrier aggregation technology because the operator has not yet pushed a software update to those phones to activate the technology for users.

Interestingly, Ottendorfer explained that Sprint’s approach to carrier aggregation technology uses multiple bands inside its 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings. He said Sprint could potentially offer up to four or five channels of service using carrier aggregation in Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum because Sprint owns roughly 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in the nation’s top 100 markets.

Carrier aggregation technology essentially glues together wireless transmissions in different bands to increase users’ download speeds. Verizon, T-Mobile and other carriers are using the technology to bind together transmissions in differing spectrum bands; for example, Verizon is using two-channel carrier aggregation across its AWS and 700 MHz spectrum bands.

To be clear, Sprint isn’t the only carrier employing three-channel carrier aggregation. Verizon has said it too will deploy the technology, and T-Mobile has said it is already offering three-channel carrier aggregation, though it did not say where.

“Including the iPhone 7/7+, Sprint would have 7 devices that support 3-channel CA. 3-channel CA devices achieve about 300Mbps downlink speeds in lab testing, and closer to 200Mbps in actual deployments, which are leaps and bounds ahead of other download speeds,” Wells Fargo’s Fritzsche explained.

Related articles:
Verizon’s Haberman explains 2, 3 channel aggregation: 300 Mbps speeds depend on carrier size, spectrum
Apple’s iPhone 7 ignores Band 66 for AWS-3 spectrum

Article updated Sept. 12 with comments from Sprint.

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