Sprint to expand and improve LTE network, may add up to 20,000 cell sites

Sprint (NYSE: S) plans to significantly expand its LTE network by adding potentially up to 20,000 cell sites and repurposing existing sites, according a source familiar with Sprint's plans. These plans are much more extensive than those reported by Sprint blog S4GRU, which said Sprint is planning to add 9,000 cell sites to its network.

According to the source, who works closely with Sprint and requested anonymity, Sprint is going to expand the size of its network and add up to 20,000 cell sites. However, the source said that the figure is not final and there is no timeframe for completing that expansion. Analysts at New Street Research also have estimated that Sprint might add more than 20,000 sites over time.

Sprint updated 38,000 sites with multi-mode base stations as part of its Network Vision network modernization. The company also has 10,000 former Clearwire towers.

The source said Sprint's new network plan will have a mix of dual-band and tri-band sites because in some rural markets Sprint will not be deploying 2.5 GHz radios and antennas. The company plans to densify its network through both macro cell sites and small cells. According to the source, Sprint plans to keep the 10,000 former Clearwire towers. About 7,000 of those sites now support TD-LTE but do not have CDMA radios. Part of the new plan involves adding CDMA to some of these sites.  

Sprint declined to comment. However, during Sprint's calendar fourth-quarter earnings conference call, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said the company is continuing to invest in its network infrastructure and across its spectrum portfolio, which includes 800 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2 5 GHz bands. The company also plans to use carrier aggregation across all three of those bands.

"This includes significantly densifying our network by increasing the number of sites across all the spectrum bands, including macro and small cells to increase the coverage and capacity of the network," Claure said.

Sprint has an average of 120 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in 90 of the top 100 markets and has often talked about using that spectrum to provide more capacity and faster speeds to its customers. The company currently covers 125 million POPs with 2.5 GHz TD-LTE and plans to expand that network this year, though it is unclear by how much.

However, not all analysts are confident in Sprint's ability to execute on its expansion plans. "We expected Sprint to add LTE sites, offset by WiMAX sites that it decommissioned, but 9,000 sounds higher than expected, and if true and would a positive sign regarding Sprint's renewed interest in exploiting its differentiated depth of spectrum," BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk told FierceWireless. "Now they just have to go out and do it."

For more:
- see this S4GRU article

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