Sprint's Ottendorfer: 'We have the best spectrum' for data

Sprint COO of Operations Gunther Ottendorfer (left) and CTO John Saw (right) pose with a Nokia massive MIMO antenna at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

BARCELONA, Spain—Sprint’s technology brain trust is confident that the recent unlimited-data craze will force its competitors to ramp up their capex investments to meet ever-increasing traffic in their networks. 

But Sprint won’t need to spend as much as its rivals as demand continues to soar, said John Saw, CTO, and Gunther Ottendorfer, COO of Technology. And the primary reason—yes, you guessed it—is spectrum. 

“The things that make us most confident—first of all we have the best spectrum,” Ottendorfer said when asked whether Sprint’s network will be up to the task. “And we have high-band spectrum,” which can offer increased capacity compared to lower bands.

Meanwhile, the other three major carriers will have to make significant investments to make sure they can meet demand with their airwaves, Saw and Ottendorfer said. For example, The massive MIMO technology Sprint demonstrated earlier this week can be deployed much more affordably using high-band spectrum than it can in lower bands, Saw said. 

Sprint and T-Mobile both launched new unlimited plans last August, sparking an unlimited war that has escalated quickly. Verizon launched its own unlimited plan after years of decrying the economic viability of unlimited, and AT&T made its plan available to all customers; it had previously been restricted to DirecTV subscribers. Meanwhile, carriers have incrementally sweetened their unlimited offerings by lowering prices or including perks like HD video.

But Sprint claims it has an advantage in the new era of unlimited because it had long offered an all-you-can-eat service. Its customers haven’t had to rely on Wi-Fi, Saw and Ottendorfer said, because they didn't have to fear overage charges. 

“For the other guys, they've had to teach their customers to use Wi-Fi,” according to Ottendorfer. “So it means that their average traffic will increase” as users embrace unlimited offerings.

Meanwhile, Sprint said it's making progress overcoming the logistical and bureaucratic hurdles that have hindered small cell deployments for all carriers. And Sprint hopes to get more help from the FCC under Ajit Pai, who ascended to the chair after Donald Trump was inaugurated.

“We are optimistic that Pai will be very helpful” in smoothing out some of the wrinkles that can stymie deployments of small cells, Saw said. “This is not a Sprint challenge, this is an industrywide challenge."