Sprint’s Curiosity IoT networks resemble private LTE networks

Sprint has 27 Curiosity nodes across the US and anticipates having 100 nodes. (Monica Alleven/FierceWireless)

Sprint has named three locations where it has put up Curiosity IoT networks near where it has IoT customers: Greenville, South Carolina; Peachtree Corners, Georgia; and Phoenix, Arizona. And the IoT networks that it’s able to offer to customers bear a strong resemblance to private LTE networks.

“We currently have 27 Curiosity nodes across the US,” said Ivo Rook, Sprint’s SVP for Internet of Things. “The reason is simple: the closer you are to a node, the closer you are to the data processing, and this means the closer to a node the better the performance your IoT network has. Over time, we anticipate more than 100 nodes.”

The company isn't naming all the customers it has deals with for all its current nodes

To set up its Curiosity IoT networks, Sprint is working with Packet for its bare metal compute infrastructure and with Ericsson for networking software. Curiosity uses Sprint’s existing spectrum or the spectrum of 150 carriers around the globe that Sprint has agreements with.

When the concept of IoT networks first arose, there was a lot of talk about narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) networks and Cat-M1 networks. But Rook explained that for Sprint these IoT networks are actually deployed within Sprint’s existing cellular network. The IoT networks are suitable for low-bandwidth devices such as sensors, which use a very small amount of capacity compared to what smart phones use.

RELATED: Sprint is testing NB-IoT in its network

NB-IoT “sits in between the band” of the regular cellular network, hence it gets its name: narrow-band. Rook said, “Normally, narrow-band has more of a purpose if you want to deploy something nationwide. For example, if the utility sector wants to deploy 3,000 meters.”

But Sprint’s Curiosity deployments don’t always have a heavy reliance on NB-IoT. They also rely on LTE spectrum, which makes them look a lot like a private LTE network. And the Curiosity deployments can use spectrum even in places where Sprint has not yet built infrastructure for cell phone coverage.

In addition to Sprint’s spectrum, its Curiosity deployments require compute and networking core infrastructure, which Sprint gets from the bare metal data center company Packet. And then that bare metal infrastructure runs software from Ericsson that provides all the network functions including the evolved packet core. “Because we have built our network in such a way, we can run our network just about anywhere,” said Rook.

RELATED: Equinix buys bare metal data center company Packet

Sprint can place a node inside an enterprise, for example. The company has deployed 27 nodes in a distributed fashion in U.S. cities where it has IoT customers or where it anticipates it might garner IoT customers. “It’s highly distributed,” said Rook. “We can give people a private network while using our nationwide spectrum we have available.”

Zac Smith, Packet’s CEO said, “Sprint came to us to help build their IoT network. They want to put it in any city in the US in 90 days or less. The best way I can describe how Sprint sees Curiosity is: it’s selling enterprise-grade wireless. Each enterprise has unique requirements for wireless.”

Curiosity can go global

“We [also] have a global extension because our partner Ericsson has a global backbone with data centers in Asia, Europe, and the USA,” said Rook, referring to Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator network.

Ericsson also has a global network for the distribution of content called Edge Gravity. Rook said Sprint is talking with Ericsson about the possibility of combining Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator network with its Edge Gravity network. The anticipation is that the sensors of the future will include camera capabilities and the IoT Accelerator network could benefit from Edge Gravity’s video capabilities.

RELATED: Ericsson has a global edge network built from service provider partnerships

Curiosity’s focus has primarily been the United States, so far. But just last week Sprint announced that Curiosity will be available for customers in Australia in the first half of 2020 thanks to a new relationship with Australian operator Telstra.