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Can Sprint Spark a Comeback With Tri-Band Devices?

Can Sprint Spark a Comeback With Tri-Band Devices?
By Jennifer LeClaire

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It will take a while before Sprint can roll this enhanced LTE service out to large parts of its network. And by the time Sprint delivers this speed to its customers, its competitors like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, US Cellular, C Spire and others will be working on rolling out their own very fast 5G technology, said wireless analyst Jeff Kagan.
 

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A new technology unveiled by Sprint that delivers 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) over-the-air speed has the potential to surpass wireless speeds of any U.S. network provider -- at least for now. Dubbed Sprint Spark, the wireless carrier demonstrated its enhanced LTE tech at its lab near Silicon Valley, Calif. on Wednesday.

The super-high-speed capability demonstrates 50 to 60 megabits per second (Mbps) peak speeds today with increasing speed potential over time. Given Sprint’s spectrum and technology assets, the company said it is technically feasible to deliver more than 2Gbps per sector of over-the-air speed.

“Sprint Spark is a combination of advanced capabilities, like 1x, 2x and 3x carrier aggregation for speed, 8T8R for coverage, MIMO for capacity, TDD for spectral efficiency, together with the most advanced devices offering both tri-band capability and high-definition voice for the best possible customer experience,” said Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint.

Tri-Band Phones Rolling Out

Sprint plans to deploy Spark in about 100 of America’s largest cities during the next three years. Sprint 4G LTE service will be available by mid-2014 to about 250 million Americans, and Sprint expects 100 million Americans will have Sprint Spark or 2.5GHz coverage by the end of 2014. The first markets with limited availability are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Tampa and Miami.

Spark combines 4G FDD1-LTE at 800 Megahertz (MHz) and 1.9 Gigahertz (GHz) and TDD1-LTE at 2.5GHz spectrum, TDD-LTE technology (2.5GHz), and carrier aggregation in the 2.5GHz band. These spectrum assets, technology and architecture are designed to work with tri-band wireless devices. Named for their ability to accommodate multiple spectrum bands, tri-band devices support active hand-off mode between 800MHz, 1.9GHz and 2.5GHz. The result: data session continuity as the device moves between spectrum bands.

The HTC One max, LG G2, Samsung Galaxy Mega and Samsung Galaxy S 4 mini are the first smartphones to work with Spark. Samsung Galaxy Mega and Samsung Galaxy S 4 mini launch on Nov. 8, and are expected to become tri-band enabled with a software update shortly after launch. LG G2 will also be available on Nov. 8 and is expected to become tri-band enabled with a software update in early 2014. HTC One max is coming soon.

Sprint’s Pin Drop

We asked Jeff Kagan, a telecom industry analyst who has been following this story, for his reaction to Spark. He told us the news is exciting but there are two caveats.

“It will take a while before Sprint can roll this speed out to large parts of their network,” he said. “Two, by the time Sprint delivers this speed to their customers, their competitors like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, US Cellular, C Spire and others will be working on rolling out their own very fast 5G technology.”

As Kagan sees it, whether or not Sprint will have a real competitive advantage is yet to be seen. Success in wireless is as much about perception as it is about reality, he added, and Sprint must change the perception of how people think about Sprint. He’s betting events and news like this will help Sprint improve its brand perception.

“Sprint Spark will also offer high definition voice. This is supposedly a much higher quality voice call than traditional wireless,” Kagan said. “So could Sprint actually break out their old advertising from the early 1990s with the pin drop to illustrate the excellent quality? True, that was for wireline and this is now for wireless, but they can update it, can’t they?”
 

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