America’s smallest national carrier, Sprint, announced today that it expected all of its postpaid handsets with LTE Band 41 to offer its High Performance User Equipment, or HPUE, networking technology by 2018. HPUE is a technology co-designed by Sprint that the company says expands the range and functionality of its 2.5 GHz high performance, high frequency spectrum by 30%. This improvement means that Sprint’s 2.5 GHz towers will have close to the range of its 1.9 GHz mid frequency spectrum. For a carrier with considerable spectrum available at the 2.5 GHz frequency point, HPUE is a potentially game changing technology. To date, while the high frequency 2.5 GHz spectrum offers high performance LTE networking, the higher the frequency, the shorter the effective range of a given mast or antenna. Sprint’s HPUE technology should greatly enhance its 2.5 GHz coverage, including indoors, where the higher frequency coverage is typically poor as the signals do not penetrate walls and other solid objects.
Of course, there are two requirements before Sprint can use HPUE 2.5 GHz networking on its TDD-LTE network. It needs to deploy the technology at its cell sites and customers need compatible devices. The carrier has already explained that it expects Samsung to be the first manufacturer to sell a HPUE-capable device in 2017 and it is expecting “widespread support” to follow. Chief Technical Officer, John Saw, explained during the earnings call: “I think at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, there will be more announcements about phones supporting HPUE. We are extremely excited. We expect to see phones this year and by 2018, we expect all of our postpaid phones with Band 41 to support HPUE.” Sprint’s Chief Executive, Marcelo Claure, added that the company is excited to be field testing massive MIMO on its 2.5 GHz spectrum, which will give the carrier gigabit speeds. Unlike lower frequencies, massive MIMO is more practical on the 2.5 GHz frequency because as a rule of thumb, the lower the frequency, the larger the antenna needed. Sprint’s 2.5 GHz band does not need the same impractically large antenna assembly as mid and low frequency towers require. Claure also highlighted that the carrier believes, “2.5 spectrum is well-suited as a sub 6 gigahertz band for 5G as well given the very wide channels and the fact that is is TDD, which is a leading candidate for 5G as well.”
Despite these technological advantages, the industry remains anxious over Sprint’s prospects. The wireless marketplace is a particularly cutthroat place to run a business and Sprint’s financial resources are being stretched between the need to upgrade and modernize its network, invest into newer technologies, and retain customers as well as acquire new ones. The company reported a net loss of 12 cents per share, which was noticeably lower than the industry estimate of 9 cents per share. Furthermore, postpaid ARPU - Average Revenue Per User - dropped by 5.3% over the year to $57.12. ARPU is an industry metric for comparison with other carriers and shows how the business generates cash. 2017 is likely to be a very important year for Sprint, starting with any smartphones and other connected devices released at the Mobile World Congress, which is only a few weeks away.