Sprint (NYSE: S) named an executive from its parent company SoftBank as its new top network executive. The posting comes at a time when Sprint is trying to catch up to its rivals in LTE network coverage and expand its deployment of its tri-band Spark LTE service, especially via TD-LTE using 2.5 GHz spectrum.
Sprint said Junichi Miyakawa will have the newly created position of Technical Chief Operating Officer, effective Nov. 1. He will report directly to Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. Miyakawa previously led SoftBank's network operations, which rely heavily on TD-LTE technology using 2.5 GHz spectrum.
Both Sprint CTO Stephen Bye and John Saw, Sprint's Chief Network Officer, will continue to lead their organizations at Sprint but will report to Miyakawa. Sprint said Miyakawa will oversee the company's network and technology organization, including associated strategy, network operations and performance. Interestingly, Sprint said he will also lead the carrier's relationships with key network equipment vendors.
Miyakawa currently serves as executive vice president and CTO of SoftBank Mobile, SoftBank BB and SoftBank Telecom. He is also a board member. Sprint noted that under his direction, SoftBank emerged as a wireless market leader in Japan with a network running largely on 2.5 GHz. Sprint controls around 120 MHz of spectrum in that band in 90 percent of the top 100 markets and is using that spectrum to provide expanded capacity and higher speeds to customers.
"Miyakawa-san transformed the SoftBank network in Japan and I'm confident that his expertise and leadership will help us do the same thing for Sprint customers," Claure said in a statement. "We already have made substantial progress on the Sprint network and it is performing better every day. He will work directly with our network team as we continue to build out our network to take advantage of our strong and unique spectrum position."
Claure said Bye and Saw "have done an excellent job in leading our technology development and network operations and in improving our network performance."
Sprint executives, including Claure, have said that while the company's network is continually improving they have more work to do. According to an August report from independent network testing firm RootMetrics, Sprint placed last among the four Tier 1 carriers in overall national network performance, data performance, network speed and call performance for the first half of 2014.
Sprint is trying to remedy that through the rollout of Spark, which Sprint says delivers peak data speeds of 50-60 Mbps right now and the company has said it will deliver 100 Mbps by the end of the year through two-carrier aggregation on its 2.5 GHz TD-LTE service. However, Spark is only available in 46 markets right now, though Sprint aims to cover 100 million POPs with Spark by the end of the year. Sprint has not yet said how many people it will cover with Spark in 2015.
Sprint still plans to deploy its 2.5 GHz spectrum on a nationwide basis but recently changed its rollout strategy to target the more congested points of its network first.
Miyakawa's appointment is an indication that SoftBank wants to ensure that Sprint's Spark rollout proceeds smoothly and perhaps at a faster rate. SoftBank worked closely with Nokia Networks (NYSE:NOK) on deploying TD-LTE network gear. Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Samsung are the three vendors Sprint chose to deploy 8T8R radios for its TD-LTE Spark deployment. 8T8R radios are expected to 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.
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Correction, Oct. 31, 2014: This article incorrectly referred to the number of markets in which Sprint has deployed its tri-band LTE Spark service. It is currently available in 46 markets, not 29.