Of the big four, Sprint is America's smallest national carrier, having relatively recently been overtaken by T-Mobile USA. As a business, Sprint has been under pressure owing to a blend of the price war between the four national carriers and the need to regenerate and deploy its network. Sprint last year announced that they were not going to participate in the FCC's 2016 600 MHz spectrum auction and instead are concentrating on improving their network using spectrum that they already have. This spectrum is at the 2,500 MHz point, or 2.5 GHz, which is higher than most other carriers' available spectrum. This means that Sprint cannot deploy cell masts in a similar fashion to much of the competition because these high-frequency signals are easily absorbed by buildings and terrain, which would mean the carrier would need many more masts. For the self-professed poorest carrier, this is not good business sense: instead, Sprint is working smarter to deploy its network.
We have already seen how the carrier is aiming to deploy a network that is simply better than competitors but will be doing this on a city by city basis and relying on a combination of word of mouth and of course advertising to promote its new high-performance network. Today, CommScope announced that Sprint has agreed to "an extensive deployment" of its small cell sites with a bias towards locating these sites close to small and medium sized businesses. Furthermore, CommScope has explained that Sprint will be using a combination of 2.5 GHz LTE and 802.11ac dual band, dual concurrent Wi-Fi. This technology will be based on Qualcomm's FSM small and VIVE Wi-Fi technology: it appears Sprint are going down the managed Wi-Fi route to bolster the LTE networks, although the company did not elaborate their immediate plans. However, CommScope's existing customers use their small cell sites to boost coverage for offices, shops, and similar venues; the idea here could be that Sprint will use its high-frequency sites to provide high-performance networking in areas where it expects or has seen high demand, leaving its lower frequency signals to cover less popular areas.
Sprint's Chief Executive Officer explain in the morning earnings conference call that the company will not be signing twenty-year cell site deals if there is no need. In other respects, Sprint could be following in the footsteps of AT&T, which picked up Wi-Fi managed business Wayport back in 2008. Today's announcement of the deal with CommScope could also put the carrier into competition with Towerstream and Comcast when it comes to managed Wi-Fi services – but the carrier is keeping quiet about its immediate plans.