As Sprint’s chief technology officer, John Saw is in charge of deploying the largest set of spectrum assets owned by any U.S. carrier. And after several years of lean budgets, Saw now has more than $5 billion this year committed to deploy all three of Sprint’s spectrum bands: 850 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2.5 GHz.
Saw, who holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and six wireless patents, was also present on the investor call that Sprint and T-Mobile held just after they announced their plans to merge. T-Mobile CEO John Legere noted that Saw works very well with T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray, suggesting that Saw may play a key role at New T-Mobile if the merger is completed.
But Saw has plenty to do before that. He is particularly excited about the opportunity to deploy massive MIMO in the 2.5 GHz spectrum that Sprint acquired when it purchased Clearwire. (Sprint also acquired Saw through Clearwire; Saw was Clearwire’s second employee and led its deployment of North America’s first 4G network.)
Since higher spectrum bands require smaller antennas, Saw says Sprint can squeeze 128 antenna elements into one integrated antenna radio system and use some for LTE and some for 5G.
“The advantage we have in the race to 5G is that we are going to be upgrading existing cell sites,” Saw said recently at CTIA’s Race to 5G Summit.
Other carriers have also claimed that they will be able to deploy 5G in the same bands they use for LTE. But right now, Sprint has more high-band spectrum than anyone—and more overall spectrum as well. Which puts John Saw in a unique position as 5G networks start to go live in the months ahead.