Sprint took exception to this story, which reported that the strand-mounted small cells it deployed in Long Island, New York, in collaboration with Altice, didn’t improve its network much. Sprint said that the research the story was covered a time frame after most of these small cells had already been deployed.
“New Street Research (NSR) says there was ‘little improvement’ when comparing 3Q18 with 3Q19,” wrote a Sprint spokesperson. “NSR failed to consider that 96% of our strand mount small cells in Long Island were deployed before 3Q18, meaning 4% of our deployment occurred in the timeframe NSR reported on.”
NSR responded, “We acknowledged in our report that the 19,000 small cells were deployed ahead of 3Q18, and so the data we presented may not capture the improvement they have seen.”
Sprint says that multiple independent reports show Sprint’s network in Long Island from 3Q17 to 3Q19 improved. Sprint cited some Ookla data as one example. Ookla found that from 3Q17 to 3Q18 Sprint download speeds improved 105% from 11.6 Mbps to 23.6 Mbps, and from 3Q18 to 3Q19 Sprint’s network continued to improve with download speeds up an additional 47% to nearly 35 Mbps.
But NSR sticks by its assessment that Sprint still has the worst speeds of the four carriers in Long Island and nationwide. “This was corroborated by our data from Tutela,” said NSR. “The Tutela data also measured other factors of network quality, such as upload throughput, latency, jitter, and packet loss.”
Regardless of its disagreement with NSR’s data, Sprint is happy with the improvement to its network after its deployment of strand-mounted small cells. “Furthermore, during our own internal drive tests in the April 2018 timeframe where we’d deployed 2.5 GHz strand-mount small cells, the product delivered download speeds up to 16 times faster than just relying on our macro sites,” said the Sprint spokesperson.
Sprint also clarified that the 19,000 strand-mounted small cells is throughout the broader New York area, with less than half of the 19,000 actually being in Long Island.
Mark Walker, Sprint’s VP of network for the Northeast region, said the strand mounted small cell deployment with Altice “was absolutely worth doing” and “of all the projects I’ve been a part of, this was the most smooth running, highest volume we’ve had.” Most of the work, 96% of it, was done between late 2017 and 3Q 2018.
He said the deployment was a collaboration where Altice employees and contractors did the actual hanging of the small cells, and Sprint “program-managed and did activation and integration and configuration.”
Walker said Sprint is now also deploying strand-mounted small cells in other markets with other cable operators. Cox Communications is Sprint’s only other named cable operator partner for these deployments.
Sprint has announced nine 5G markets across the United States, covering about 16 million people. The company is deploying massive MIMO antennas in those markets on its 2.5 GHz spectrum to provide its 5G coverage in high capacity areas.
While the other carriers are also deploying massive MIMO antennas for 5G coverage, they’re typically using those antennas in the high-band mmWave spectrum. Walker said, “Because Sprint has a wealth of 2.5 mid-band spectrum, we are able to deploy large footprints off our small cells and create the same 5G footprint as our LTE footprint. I would venture to say the other carriers would not be putting up so many sites if they didn’t have to. That’s the trade-off; they have to put the sites every block. If they could put them on their macro sites and provide high-speed data, they would. They just don’t have the spectrum available.”
Walker said that Sprint’s 5G rollouts are also made easier from a siting, zoning and permitting perspective because the company can use its existing footprint for a lot of its 5G deployment. “We’re able to go into a much quicker process; swap out LTE antennas for 2.5 and we’re able to do split mode which is to propagate 5G and LTE out of same antennas and radios out of the same footprint.”
The company also uses ENDC technology. In a press conference earlier this year, Sprint CTO John Saw said, “ENDC is dual connectivity where we actually connect the traffic from LTE and 5G NR together on the phone. Dual connect is working on our phones and on our network. Customers will get the benefit of capacity from both an LTE network as well as a 5G network. I believe we are one of the first to have dual connectivity working simultaneously across LTE advanced and 5G NR.”