Sprint Is Testing Drone-Based Small Cell Network Expansion

According to a new announcement made via the company's official blog, Sprint is now in the process of testing a drone delivery system for network capacity expansion. The technology is based on the company's Magic Box, which was first revealed back in May. For those that may not remember, Magic Box is a completely wireless small cell network solution which can expand the companies network by up to 30,000 square feet and which carries a claimed increase to network speed of up to 200 percent. In fact, the Magic Box itself has already been used by the company on several occasions. However, this latest achievement effectively attaches one of Sprint's Magic Boxes to a drone for rapid deployment without the hassle of setting up temporary towers.

As of this writing, the nation's fourth-largest service provider hasn't provided too many details about the test itself but has said that initial testing was conducted about 30 miles outside of Dallas, Texas - in Midlothian. Sprint also said that the overall goal of the test is to create a completely new option for the company to choose from in circumstances where a network needs to be expanded rapidly, such as during a natural disaster or when events are expected to cause network usage spikes - resulting in congestion. The drones are intended to work as a kind of repeater hub for the company's network, including its LTE Plus network. It accomplishes that by connecting to a neighboring Sprint tower on one channel and then rebroadcasting and connecting along a separate channel. It also operates on Sprint's dedicated 2.5 GHz or 1.9 GHz spectrum, which helps to reduce noise and improve efficiency, and manages to incorporate all of the latest innovations in mobile carrier networking. That means it includes support for multiple carrier aggregations, beamforming, HPUE, 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO, and Massive MIMO technologies.

As to the hardware comprising Sprint's latest efforts, the drone and small cell were made by two separate companies. The small cell itself was manufactured by a company called Airspan and uses two chipsets. Making up the base of the cell is a Qualcomm SoC, while the wireless backhaul is handled by another chip from GCT Semiconductor. The drone itself was created by CyPhy Works, which worked with Sprint to address problems associated with trying to maintain stable drone flight over the course of multiple consecutive days. That's something CyPhy specializes in and is extremely important if Sprint intends to use its Magic Box-enabled drones to extend network coverage consistently for the duration of major events or during emergencies.

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