Sprint CFO: We're banking on 2.5 GHz, 8T8R radios for network differentiation

Sprint (NYSE: S) said it will shine in the second half of the year and set itself apart from the competition in terms of network speeds and improved capacity.  At that time, Sprint will be deploying new LTE radios in the 2.5 GHz spectrum, a senior Sprint executive at an investor conference Monday.

The 2.5 GHz spectrum along with Sprint's 8T8R radios are key components of Sprint Spark, the carrier's tri-band LTE service that  the company aims to deploy to 100 million POPs by year-end. Sprint CFO Joe Euteneuer said that a year from now the company "would like to see this network be the dominant force" in Sprint's competitive attack on the market, and that the improved network will help reduce churn and improve subscriber growth.

Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, Euteneuer said customers with Spark-capable tri-band phones on tri-band towers are seeing noticeable bumps in speed, and that will be the biggest difference customers will see on Sprint's LTE network.

Sprint is currently field-testing the new radios, which provide for 8 Transmitters 8 Receivers, hence the 8T8R moniker. The carrier has said the 8T8R radios deliver faster data speeds and improved overall coverage, both at the edge and in the middle of the cell, because they can send multiple data streams and provide better signal strength.  

"It's really a capacity issue," Euteneuer said. "It's really about capacity and speed." Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Nokia (NYSE:NOK)   and Samsung are making the radios, which  Euteneuer said will "allow for speeds that we've not seen before."

John Saw, Sprint's chief network officer, said in March that the carrier plans to expand Spark to two-carrier configuration toward the end of this year, which he said will result in peak download speeds of 120 Mbps. However, Saw also said that Sprint Spark users today will need to purchase new devices to be able to access those faster speeds. He confirmed to FierceWireless that the Spark devices that Sprint sells today will not be able access two-channel and three-channel 2.5 GHz configurations, thus forcing Sprint customers to upgrade to new devices that can access those configurations to make use of the faster speeds.

Initially, the 8T8R deployment will focus on "key spots" in the network that need more capacity and then will expand into larger deployments in major cities. Getting the differentiation is key in the top 100 markets, Euteneuer said.  "You want to have a groundswell of 2.5 that can create that differentiation," he said.

Of course, other carriers are also working to augment capacity and improve network performance. Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) has started to deploy AWS spectrum in major markets and plans roll that out nationwide over the next 14 to 18 months. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is starting to deploy 4x2 MIMO antenna technology in its LTE network to enhance network performance at the cell edge and generally boost the customer experience.

Euteneuer also touched on other topics. He said that while Sprint was not pleased that the FCC added its 2.5 GHz spectrum to its spectrum screen without differentiating between high, medium and low-band spectrum, he said Sprint was generally pleased with rules for next year's incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum.

The rules will bar nationwide carriers with 45 MHz or more of low-band spectrum in a market from bidding on certain swaths of spectrum that may be set aside. The FCC is planning to set aside up to 30 MHz of so-called reserved spectrum in any given market for smaller carriers, though that amount could be smaller depending on how much spectrum broadcasters give up and on bidding demand. Euteneuer said Sprint thinks it "will have full ability to bid on all of the spectrum."

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