Sprint counts 600,000 femtocells, plans to update Airave

NEW ORLEANS--A Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) executive said the carrier now counts 600,000 femtocells in its network--a dramatic jump from the 250,000 femtocells Sprint said it had deployed as of March of 2011. Further, Sprint's Iyad Tarazi said the carrier plans to update its Airave femtocell product to support CDMA services over its 800 MHz network and to enable the products to better work together to coordinate coverage.

Tarazi, VP of Sprint's network development, said the updated devices would be made available sometime this year. Samsung built Sprint's first femtocell product and Airvana currently supplies Sprint's EV-DO Airave femtocell. Sprint began selling the Airave in 2008 and has said its goal is to distribute 1 million femtocells.

Tarazi said Sprint's update to its Airave would allow the gadgets to work together to provide better coverage. He said the update would also increase the femtocell's coverage range and its capacity.

Femtocells are essentially mini cellular base stations that users can install in their house or workplace for voice and data coverage, and can route the resulting cellular traffic through a standard wireline Internet connection. The gadgets are sometimes given away for free by wireless carriers seeking to placate subscribers upset over coverage holes. Tarazi said Sprint uses its femtocells to enhance its coverage and to retain customers.

Tarazi, part of the team implementing the carrier's Network Vision network modernization project, said the update to Sprint's femtocell is part of the carrier's wider efforts to implement small cell technology across its network. He said Sprint will start launching picocells in the fourth quarter of this year in public venues like stadiums and hospitals. He said the carrier plans to replace its distributed antenna networks with picocell products. He said Sprint would begin launching picocells outdoors in 2013 and 2014.

Ultimately, Tarazi said Sprint's femtocell and picocell efforts are intended to create heterogeneous networks, or HetNets, which can add density to the carrier's macro network layer with low-power nodes.

Sprint isn't alone in chasing small cells and HetNets. AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) Kristin Rinne said the carrier is pursuing various HetNet products.

Related Articles:
AT&T's Rinne: Small cells, SON and VoLTE coming in 2012, 2013
Sprint: We've got 250,000 femtocells on our network
Sprint goes nationwide with Airave femtocell
Sprint begins offering EV-DO femtocells
AT&T unveils nationwide femtocell offering
Verizon femtocell to go on sale Jan. 25

Article updated May 9 to include Airvana as a Sprint femtocell supplier.

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