Sprint partnered with Atlanta, Georgia-based telecom Cox Communications on small cell deployment, the two companies announced Thursday. Under the terms of what's officially described as a "multi-year" collaboration, Cox will provide Sprint with its wireline infrastructure so as to help the fourth largest mobile service provider in the United States deploy additional small cell stations and densify its network to a significant degree.
While small cell deployment is the focus of the newly announced partnership, Sprint and Cox also described it as a starting point for strengthening their collaboration on a wider variety of fronts, albeit without elaborating on the matter. With the new agreement technically resulting from a settlement of a patent dispute between the two, the development marks a somewhat unexpected but not entirely unprecedented turn of events. It's presently unclear what exactly is Cox getting out of its deal with Sprint as the details of the partnership weren't disclosed. While financial compensation or reduced liability in the patent dispute are two possibilities, the firm may also be looking to leverage Sprint's network. Sprint already inked a somewhat similar network densification agreement with Altice USA two months back, with its previously announced partner specifically stating it intends to use the wireless carrier's infrastructure as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). No such details have been mentioned in regards to the latest deal but may be disclosed later this year once Sprint starts leveraging Cox's infrastructure. Cox itself showed some interest in the wireless market in the past, having operated as a Sprint MVNO while building its own 3G network before discontinuing such plans in 2011, shortly before it was sued by Sprint for allegedly using its patented technology for transmitting voice data.
Sprint's efforts to strengthen its small cell portfolio aren't just meant to benefit its existing network offerings but also be used as the basis for the deployment of the wireless carrier's 5G network. Small cells are particularly important for carrying Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum which has been included in the first non-standard 3GPP 5G NR specification announced last month but still isn't supported by nearly a third of the company's cell sites in the country. The Overland Park, Kansas-based telecom giant has yet to provide many details on its 5G plans but has already stated it holds little interest in fixed wireless access solutions given how truly mobile 5G is "so much better."