Sprint: Millimeter wave spectrum is ‘important part of our strategy going forward’

Millimeter wave spectrum can carry much more data than lower-band spectrum. (Pixabay)

Sprint’s executives said that the carrier is interested in adding millimeter wave spectrum to its network.

"Millimeter wave spectrum is an important part of our strategy going forward,” outgoing Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said yesterday in response to a question during the carrier’s quarterly conference call with analysts about whether Sprint would participate in the FCC’s upcoming auction of millimeter-wave spectrum.

Sprint CTO John Saw, who is charged with rolling out Sprint’s 5G network by next year, added some details to the carrier’s views on the spectrum: “Millimeter wave provides a lot of bandwidth,” Saw said during the call. “It can provide for a lot of capacity. It complements our 2.5 GHz, sub-6 GHz solution really well in areas where you need a lot of capacity, hot zones and hotspots. I think it's very hard to build a network on millimeter wave alone because that would drive a lot of capex and a lot of sites. But we view millimeter wave as something that we can add on as an overlay to 2.5 for hot zone purposes and hotspot purposes.”

However, Sprint’s executives stopped short of confirming the carrier would participate in the FCC’s upcoming auction of millimeter wave spectrum, currently scheduled to start in November.

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The comments by Sprint’s management are noteworthy though because Sprint has not purchased any spectrum in any of the FCC’s major spectrum auctions for at least the past decade. Specifically, Sprint has sat on the sidelines of the FCC’s 700 MHz, AWS-3 and 600 MHz spectrum auctions.

Sprint’s aversion to purchasing additional spectrum is partly due to the carrier’s ongoing efforts to cut costs from its business as well as due to the extensiveand lightly used2.5 GHz spectrum that the carrier already owns. Indeed, Claure said that, so far, Sprint has only deployed its 2.5 GHz holdings on 60% of its towers, but that it would reach 100% by the end of this year.

Of course, Sprint’s comments on the value of millimeter wave spectrum also dovetail with the operator’s recently announced plan to merge with T-Mobilea transaction that the carriers hope to consummate by next year. T-Mobile has made it clear that it would like to supplement its current spectrum holdings with millimeter-wave spectrum in dense urban areas where customers’ data demands are often the highest. Sprint and T-Mobile have argued that the combination of their respective networks and spectrum holdings would create the “mother of all networks,” but have also said they would like to add millimeter wave spectrum to that operation.

So far AT&T and Verizon have each shown a strong desire for millimeter wave spectrum; Verizon purchased Straight Path largely for its millimeter-wave spectrum and AT&T purchased FiberTower largely for the same reason.

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But the FCC has promised to release additional millimeter wave spectrum in auctions starting in November of 28 GHz spectrum and then, shortly thereafter, of 24 GHz spectrum.

Millimeter wave spectrumgenerally spectrum above 20 GHzis valued for its ability to transmit large amounts of data, albeit over relatively short geographic distances.