Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure recently appeared at a JP Morgan investor conference, where he addressed reporters that were present and confirmed a recent rumor that the company had tied up with an unnamed cable company to test planned configurations for a fully integrated small cell buildout in Sprint's massive 2.5GHz spectrum holdings that would run alongside cable networks. According to Claure, joint activities thus far had yielded "amazing results", but he refused to reveal exactly what kind of tests they were running, or what he meant by that comment. A Sprint spokesperson later confirmed that there were indeed tests going on, but flatly said that no additional information would be provided at this time
At the same conference, Claure talked up an interesting concept that Sprint has been playing with for network densification. He spoke of massive clusters, between 20 by 20 miles and 20 by 30 miles, where the company was able to build out testing equipment, and achieve results that made him quite confident that Sprint could have the top performing network in the country some time in the near future. He did not specifically name 5G or small cells, only saying that Sprint could use the technology that's currently in testing to spread the sort of signal and speeds that Sprint's network was seeing in that cluster all over the nation.
This talk of small cells and mysterious tests comes amid Sprint's projected capex going up into the $4 billion area annually, and confirmations by the parent companies of Sprint and T-Mobile, and the carriers themselves, that a merger is definitely an option at this point. Such a merger would give a cash-strapped Sprint access to a deep wallet to fund their densification efforts, and would give T-Mobile access to Sprint's vast high-band spectrum holdings. These are just the ingredients both companies are lacking for a through and speedy 5G buildout. Sprint's proposed capex plan is technically feasible, but would put extreme financial strain on the company as it's already buried in debt, and is even going as far as selling and then leasing back its own towers to free up extra cash for capex and to pay down debts. With that sort of budget, though, it's quite possible that Sprint could lay out a fairly decent 5G buildout all on its own by 2020.