Sprint confirms trial of small cells with cable company

According to research firm Mobile Experts, the small cell market is set for significant growth.

Sprint confirmed to FierceWireless that it inked an agreement with an unnamed cable company to test methods for building out small cells for its wireless network. However, the company declined to provide any other details on the effort.

"We just did an alliance with a cable company in which we were basically able to put our small cells into the cable infrastructure and be able to generate amazing results,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said this week during an appearance at a JPMorgan investor event. “So we feel extremely comfortable that our network will be able to improve.”

Claure did not provide any further comments on the effort.

When questioned about Claure’s statement by FierceWireless, a Sprint representative said only that “this is a trial and we’re not providing additional details at this time.”

A Sprint agreement with a cable company for small cells would fit in with the operator’s overall network densification strategy. Sprint has made no secret of its efforts to densify its network with small cells running on its 2.5 GHz spectrum. Indeed, Sprint recently pointed to its deployment of 200 small cells in Manhattan with vendor ExteNet Systems that the operator said boosted its median download speeds by 43% and its median upload speeds by 56%.

Teaming with a cable operator could give Sprint access to that operator’s core network infrastructure, including for small cell backhaul. Such backhaul connections are critical for the operation of small cells. Indeed, cable operators are well aware of this situation; for example, Cox Business in 2015 joined a growing group of wholesale providers in offering small cell backhaul to wireless operators.

Interestingly, Claure made his comments about Sprint’s small cells in a wider discussion about the operator’s efforts to improve and densify its network.

“Are we capable of being No. 1 [in wireless network performance]? No question,” he said this week. “So what we did is we launched a secret project in which we had seven clusters in big cities. And these clusters are big, they’re 20x20 miles or 20x30. And once we were able to put our technology into those clusters, the results are phenomenal.”

Added Claure: “And now you have the ability to grab that cluster and basically expand it throughout the country with an improving set of tools.”

Claure’s comments also come as Sprint ramps up spending on its network. Indeed, the company recently confirmed that it will double the spending on its network this year and in the coming years compared with what it spent last year.

“Regarding our guidance for cash capital expenditure excluding these devices, we expect spending to double year-over-year to approximately $3.5 billion to $4 billion as we ramp up our densification and utilize the expanded toolbox of the various cost-efficient coverage and capacity options,” Sprint’s Tarek Robbiati said during Sprint’s quarterly conference call with investors earlier this month, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the event. “We expect network capex to remain around this level for the next three years, but could potentially increase if we see the right opportunity to efficiently accelerate our network plan.”