Sprint achieves 120-140 Mbps in LAA deployment with SpiderCloud, says LAA on long-term road map

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Sprint says it's focused on providing the most reliable service regardless of whether a customer is connected through licensed or unlicensed spectrum.

Sprint’s been pretty quiet about its use of LAA or any unlicensed spectrum for that matter, but that appears to be changing as Sprint’s chief operating officer for technology, Günther Ottendorfer, tweeted that Sprint has successfully implemented LAA, achieving 120-140 Mpbs.

“We successfully implemented LAA (LicensedAssisted Access) with only 5Mhz licensed spectrum & we achieved 120-140 Mpbs!,” Ottendorfer tweeted today.

Ottendorfer referenced Sprint’s deal with SpiderCloud that was announced on Tuesday; the carrier is offering a new small cell solution from SpiderCloud that is currently available for Sprint’s 1.9 GHz PCS spectrum with 2.5 GHz support coming next year. That product is designed to make LTE small cell deployment as easy as enterprise Wi-Fi.

RELATED: Sprint to offer SpiderCloud small cell for enterprise

Sprint’s reference to LAA is significant because it has been mostly mum on the topic whereas rivals Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T each have publicly said they will use LAA. (In the case of T-Mobile and Verizon, they’ve also embraced the more controversial LTE-U). Sprint CTO John Saw has made a point of saying Sprint can achieve Gigabit speeds without relying on unlicensed spectrum.

But Sprint told FierceWirelessTech today that LAA is on its long-term road map.

“Our focus is on providing the best, most reliable service regardless of whether a customer is connected through licensed or unlicensed spectrum,” said Sprint spokeswoman Adrienne Norton. “LAA is on our long-term road map as it complements our network strategy and builds on what we’re already doing today with LTE and Wi-Fi.”

As for Gigabit Class LTE, “only Sprint has the ability to offer Gigabit Class LTE in cities across the country using just licensed spectrum,” she added.

Sprint’s small cell announcement earlier this week with SpiderCloud was made at the SCWS Americas conference in San Jose, California. In the pictures that Ottendorfer tweeted today, he’s seen with Sprint and SpiderCloud representatives at SpiderCloud’s facility in the nearby Silicon Valley town of Milpitas, California. (Ottendorfer is leaving Sprint at the end of this year.)

Amit Jain, vice president of Marketing and Product Management at SpiderCloud, told FierceWirelessTech that while he can’t speak for Sprint, unlicensed spectrum is an option for all the carriers and now that there are devices like the Samsung Galaxy S8 supporting it, they’re likely to want to use it.

“I don’t think it in any case diminishes the value of anybody’s spectrum holdings,” he said, noting that LAA is standardized and is “quite non-controversial” because it uses listen before talk for co-existence with Wi-Fi, which was one of the big sticking points for the Wi-Fi community’s resistance to LTE-U.

Interestingly, SpiderCloud goes a bit further than the LAA standard approved through 3GPP. SpiderCloud taps into self-organizing/self-optimizing network (SON) technology, adapting its system to the changes in the Wi-Fi environment in an indoor enterprise setting. 

The vendor actually integrated a small Wi-Fi chipset into its product that acts mainly as a sensor; it’s not operating in Wi-Fi mode, but it’s being used to learn about the changes in the Wi-Fi environment and feeding that information back to the system in order to adapt to any changes in the Wi-Fi network.

“Our small cells appear to the Wi-Fi access points just like any other access point,” Jain explained. “We’re just behaving just like another Wi-Fi system in the building.”

Neither Sprint nor SpiderCloud are revealing details about their collaboration at this time.

SpiderCloud has supplied small cells to Verizon and worked with Verizon on a LTE-U trial. Art King, director of enterprise at SpiderCloud, previously told FierceWirelessTech that even though the industry is more or less leaving LTE-U behind for LAA, a lot of valuable learnings occurred thanks to LTE-U.

For the current systems, LAA works by pairing licensed spectrum—in Sprint’s case here it’s 1.9 GHz, and unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum, which is something operators around the world are using. In the future, it may be possible to pair the licensed spectrum with 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum in the U.S. once all the regulatory hurdles are taken care of in that band.