Sprint's (NYSE: S) latest small cell is actually a next-generation femtocell targeted at small and medium-sized businesses rather than the residential customers that traditionally represent the femtocell market.
CommScope said earlier this week that the nation's fourth-largest carrier has committed to "an extensive deployment" of its S1000, which supports both LTE and Wi-Fi. The S1000 is outlined in these FCC filings; CommScope markets such devices as a way for offices, restaurants and retailers to provide improved in-building wireless services for employees, visitors and guests.
A CommScope representative confirmed that Sprint is deploying the device described in the FCC documents, although the product may have been updated since those documents were filed. Airvana brought the S1000 to market a year ago targeting the same market before being acquired by CommScope in September.
Femtocells have traditionally been targeted at the residential market as a way for regular wireless customers to improve the cellular coverage inside their homes. Such devices typically plug into a wired Internet connection to create a bubble of cellular coverage in a home. Sprint has offered its Airave femtocell to residential users for years, and in 2012 said it had deployed more than 1 million of the gadgets. The S1000, though, is designed specifically for indoor use by enterprises.
Sprint executives continue to voice their support for small cells, viewing them as an affordable alternative to macrocells for network densification in some areas. "When you're poorer than the rest (of the carriers), when you have less money, you're going to deploy your network" in different ways, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said during a conference call earlier this week. "We're a lot smarter in how we're deploying our network."
The S1000 is based on Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) FSM small cell and Qualcomm's VIVE Wi-Fi chipsets, supporting both 2.5 GHz TD-LTE and 802.11ac technologies concurrently. The small cell enables building owners and tenants to offer improved wireless coverage through Sprint's network and through Wi-Fi.
The deployment also appears to signal Sprint's eagerness to expand its presence in the managed Wi-Fi market. Boingo, Towerstream, Comcast and Google have established footholds in that market, and AT&T (NYSE: T) joined the space in 2008 with the $275 million acquisition of Wayport for roughly $275 million.
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