Sprint hits Spark buildout target for 2014, will reportedly focus on 2.5 GHz small cells next year

Sprint (NYSE: S) reached its Spark buildout target of covering 100 million POPs with its tri-mode Spark LTE service this year, the company announced today. And, according to Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche, Sprint plans to rely heavily on small cells to densify its Spark service next year.

sprint network john saw


In a post on the company's website, Sprint Chief Network Office John Saw said the carrier now covers 552 markets and around 260 million people with LTE, mostly on its 1900 MHz spectrum. "Today we're excited to announce that customers in 16 new markets including Charlotte, North Carolina, and Indianapolis, Indiana, will benefit from super-fast LTE data speeds running on our 2.5 GHz spectrum. This brings our total number of LTE 2.5 GHz markets to 62 covering more than 100 million people," Saw wrote.

He also said Sprint is "closing out the year by completing our nationwide deployment of voice service on 800 MHz," and that the carrier also covers 565,000 square miles and a population of more than 38 million via the 27 carriers participating in its Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program.

Next year, Saw said Sprint will continue to build out its LTE network--he said the carrier is halfway finished with its 800 MHz buildout and "we expect to be substantially complete with our LTE 800 MHz build by the end of 2015 in markets where the spectrum is available."

In a note to investors, Wells Fargo's Fritzsche said that "small cells will play a key role in the expansion of 2.5 GHz," Fritzsche wrote, citing comments from Saw. "SoftBank has taken as similar approach in Japan. Saw would not commit on using dark fiber (noting dark fiber is 'capx heavy but opx light') but indicated backhaul is extremely important in getting the 2.5 GHz network up and running. We would expect to hear more on its strategy in 2015."

Fritzsche also said that Sprint will likely target cities like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles with its Spark buildout strategy in 2015. Sprint executives have previously explained that the carrier plans to target a handful of cities next year to create "Tokyo like" wireless experiences that offer dense coverage and super-fast speeds--a buildout that Saw indicated may rely heavily on small cells. Sprint's Spark service runs on the carrier's 800 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2.5 GHz spectrum.

Fritzsche noted that Sprint's network team--which includes Saw, Junichi Miyakawa and CTO Stephen Bye--is "very cohesive" and is based in Sprint's headquarters of Kansas City, where it can work directly with CEO Claure. Saw reports to Junichi Miyakawa, who Sprint hired in November as its new Technical Chief Operating Officer reporting directly to Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. Miyakawa hails from Sprint parent SoftBank, where he helped oversee SoftBank's 2.5 GHz network buildout in Japan.

For more:
- see this Saw post

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Article updated Dec. 17 with additional information from Sprint.