Sprint's Claure: Network improvement, awards in Denver are a harbinger of things to come nationwide

LAS VEGAS -- Sprint (NYSE: S) CEO Marcelo Claure said that the carrier's recent improvement of its network in Denver -- and network testing firm RootMetrics' determination that it provided the fastest network there and virtually tied Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) for overall network performance – is a sign of things to come as the carrier revamps its network.

"The first place [where] we actually deployed our network architecture to the way we wanted to deploy was Denver," Claure said during a keynote appearance at CTIA's Super Mobility conference. "Sprint became the fastest network. You can expect to see what happened in Denver to happen in market after market in the U.S. in the next two years."

Denver is one of 80 markets where Sprint has tuned some cell sites to support two-carrier carrier aggregation in the 2.5 GHz band, resulting in doubling of peak data rates. Claure has said that in markets like San Francisco, customers are seeing peak speeds of 125 Mbps to 135 Mbps.

"Cell sites with the capability are delivering double the capacity and speed in markets like Denver," Sprint CTO John Saw said in a company blog post earlier this week. "And you ain't seen nothing yet. Our engineers are already working on three-channel carrier aggregation which will deliver even higher capacities and speeds, just when the competitors' networks are starting to congest."

Claure repeated his claim that Sprint aims to have the No. 1 or No. 2 network in every major U.S. market within the next 24 months, a claim he first made at the end of May. "We have more spectrum than any other carrier on the planet," he said. Sprint has around 200 MHz of spectrum in total and an average of 120 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in 90 of the top 100 markets. Claure said the last few years were abut "setting the right foundation" for Sprint's network transformation.

Sprint went through a painful process to upgrade its entire 3G CDMA network and initially deploy LTE and lost millions of customers in the process when service degraded as part of Sprint's "rip-and-replace" strategy of upgrading its network gear. Yet Claure said he is confident he can right the ship. "We feel extremely positive we're going to have one of the biggest transformations and turnarounds in telecom history," he said.

Claure noted that data traffic continues to grow, and that because new devices like Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 6s are able to capture 4K video, carriers will be seeing more traffic than ever crossing their networks. That's why Sprint is starting a process to massively densify its network in a project it calls the "Next Generation Network."

Claure has said that "nearly all" of Sprint's existing macro cell sites will be upgraded to support 800 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2.5 GHz for LTE. Sprint plans to deploy thousands of new macro sites and initially tens of thousands of small cells. Claure said the deployment will be the "largest deployment of sites that have been done in the U.S. in the shortest period of time."  Claure also said Sprint will use a "different type of backhaul."    

"Our engineering experience and our depth of 2.5GHz spectrum give us flexibility, and we expect to utilize various options for deployment of backhaul in order to balance performance, costs and speed to market," Sprint spokeswoman Adrienne Norton told FierceWireless regarding Sprint's backhaul plans. Some analysts have speculated that Sprint will likely use in-band wireless backhaul solutions using the lower 2.5 GHz spectrum band that would not require line of sight.

Claure, who took over from former CEO Dan Hesse in August 2014, is giving himself three to five years in total to turn around the company. During his keynote appearance, which was a joint interview with Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins that CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker conducted, Claure said his goal has been to make Sprint a more entrepreneurial company.

Claure said SoftBank CEO and Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son has given him simple directions: "Be very aggressive, be very disruptive, change things around."

Sprint introduced a leasing model for phones that Claure said many laughed off when it was rolled out a year ago. Now though, T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) has embraced the model, as has Apple. Recently, Sprint launched a program called "iPhone Forever," which allows customers to upgrade their iPhone at any time and start a new lease when they trade in their phone.

The Sprint chief also noted that the company has more than doubled the number of its retail locations in the U.S., to more than 4,500, and has announced a partnership with European mobile retailer Dixons Carphone to launch a pilot program of around 20 stores in the U.S. Sprint has put its wares in 1,435 Sprint/RadioShack stores and also launched "Direct 2 You" service, in which sales representatives meet customers at their homes, offices or other locations to set up their new smartphones.  

Claure has recruited an entirely new management team, drawn from the U.S. as well around the world, with new executives coming from Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada and Japan. Claure joked that he found it difficult to recruit executives from Los Angeles or New York City to move to Kansas City, Mo., near Sprint's Overland Park, Kan., headquarters. "If you bring foreigners they think they are coming to the U.S., so they come happily," he cracked.  

"We want to make sure we have the best team," he said, more seriously. The new hires include CFO Tarek Robbiati, who  was most recently managing director and CEO at FlexiGroup, an Australian consumer finance company specializing in leasing; COO of Technology Günther Ottendorfer, who previously served as CTO and a board member for Telekom Austria; CMO Kevin Crull, who was previously president of Bell Media, Canada's largest media and broadcasting company; and former TIM Brasil CMO Roger Solé as senior vice president for the Hispanic market and senior vice president of innovation

In related news, Claure was named vice chairman of CTIA, and will serve a one-year term beginning Jan. 1, 2016. AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) CEO Glenn Lurie will be in the incoming chairman.

For more:
- see these two separate Sprint releases
- see this Sprint blog post

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Sprint brags of 4,500 retail stores, strikes deal with Dixons Carphone for U.S. pilot project