Sprint not yet ready to link SDN/NFV with 5G

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- While other services providers like AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) are talking about shifting toward an SDN/NFV infrastructure at the same time they're moving to 5G, Sprint (NYSE: S) hasn't been as aggressive about linking the two.

The other carriers point out the work they're doing in SDN and NFV and how it will pertain to 5G. "We have been running a lot of tests and proof of concepts in the labs already to do that," Sprint CTO John Saw told FierceWirelessTech.

In fact, moving to a telecom world dominated by software is a monumental change for the industry. Sprint is in a phase where it needs to get its own team ready for the transition. "If you think about it, SDN and NFV is very much about how do you change the culture in a traditional telecommunications company so people understand this is a new journey they have to get on," said Günther Ottendorfer, Sprint's COO of Technology.

As for the controversial LTE-U technology, Sprint has been pretty quiet on that front. Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and T-Mobile have been the most vocal about their desires to deploy LTE-U, which raised the ire of the Wi-Fi and cable industries because it uses unlicensed spectrum and they view LTE as a rude intruder. LTE-U advocates like Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) have argued that it will fairly coexist with Wi-Fi.

Acknowledging there are different camps on LTE-U, Saw said Sprint has less of a need to go to LTE-U so quickly. It has ample spectrum and 2.5 GHz is right next to unlicensed bands. "There's very little need for us to go to LTE Unlicensed" until the coexistence issues get settled, he said. "Anything to do with LTE Unlicensed has to be able to coexist peacefully with Wi-Fi obviously. That's what we've advocated for."

AT&T has said it will start a 5G trial with "friendly" customers by the end of this year, delivering a multi-gigabit, fixed type of service. AT&T plans to expand its current lab testing to an outdoor test in Austin this summer. It's starting tests first using 15 GHz gear – because that's what's available – and moving to 28 GHz equipment later this year.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam recently said that the carrier's 5G tests in its Basking Ridge, New Jersey, headquarters have shown speeds of up to 1.8 Gbps, and he hinted that the range of that service could reach up to 1,000 meters. Verizon is testing 5G this year and aims to have a fixed wireless pilot starting in 2017.

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