Sprint gets OK from SoftBank to move ahead on network densification plan

Sprint (NYSE: S) has received approval from parent company SoftBank to proceed with its massive network densification program, the carrier confirmed.

"Sprint has developed an approved network plan in partnership with SoftBank that will allow for a cost-effective network build on an accelerated timeline," Sprint spokeswoman Adrienne Norton told FierceWireless. [click to tweet]

Norton declined to comment on the status of the requests for proposals that Sprint has sent out regarding the project or how the buildout will proceed from here.

Last month at Re/code's Code Conference, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure noted that SoftBank supports the network enhancements. "We have a clear funding plan," Claure said, adding that SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son "made a pretty strong commitment: I'm going to build a strong network."

Sprint is embarking on a new "Next Generation Network" strategy to densify its network. The carrier has issued a RFP for the network work and is currently evaluating proposals from vendors. Although Claure and other Sprint executives have declined to reveal exactly how many small cells and macrocells Sprint is planning to add to its network, Claure has indicated that the carrier's long-term plan is to dramatically increase its coverage and capacity, and also to deploy Voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology. Sprint is also going to make Wi-Fi a key network element.

Earlier this year a source familiar with Sprint's network plans told FierceWireless that the company was planning to significantly expand its LTE network by adding potentially up to 20,000 cell sites and repurposing existing sites. In an interview with FierceWireless last month, Sprint CTO Stephen Bye declined to say how many sites Sprint will add.

"Within our footprint, what we'll do is make sure that we deliver a consistent and reliable experience," he said. "As we look at densification, it's not simply about building for capacity." Sprint can achieve that with its 2.5 GHz spectrum on its own, he said. The goal is to make sure data speeds and performance are increased throughout the network, he added.

Sprint is looking at traditional network equipment vendors, Bye said, as well as "what we consider disruptive players" that bring a "new thinking about how to architect networks." Bye said Sprint will be "measured and pragmatic" in how it chooses its vendors going forward.

Claure said at the Re/code conference that within two years, Sprint will have the top network among U.S. carriers. He said that "you can expect in the next 18 to 24 months--hopefully you'll invite me two years from now--that our network will be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in every single market." He later clarified that he meant No. 1 or 2 in the United States' major markets, according to CNET.

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