Update [July 23]: Sprint reached out to clarify that the small cells it’s currently deploying are meant to densify its LTE network and use the 2.5GHz spectrum instead of being direct preparations for 5G, whereas its current 5G efforts are focused on the deployment of 2.5GHz-enabled Massive MIMO radios.
Sprint is ramping up its efforts to deploy thousands of small cell stations in select cities across the United States that will serve as the company’s 5G testbeds starting with the first half of 2019, the firm said earlier this week. Much like Verizon and AT&T, Sprint is planning a next-generation wireless network that largely relies on millimeter-wave bands capable of delivering much higher capacities, faster data transfer rates, and lower latencies compared to more traditionally used frequencies. The main shortcoming of that strategy is getting the necessary infrastructure in place seeing how mmWave signals have a tendency to be absorbed by rain and foliage, in addition to having weak penetration capabilities, thus being unsuitable for traveling over long distances on their own.
Cue small cells, shoebox-sized stations designed to help bounce and focus wireless signals over a small area and hence circumvent that limitation of mmWave bands. The Overland Park, Kansas-based telecom giant already deployed thousands of such modules across the country and is planning to set up many more in the coming months. While the company has yet to share any specific figures, it said that it deployed more small cells in the first half of this year than it did over the previous 24 months combined. Besides outdoor stations, Sprint is also deploying indoor small cells, some of which come in the form of its Magic Box, an affordable solution for strengthening mmWave signals over smaller areas.
While the company continues to pursue 5G on its own, its proposed T-Mobile merger is meant to see the two combine their efforts to do so, with the duo claiming that only together can they be fully competitive on the 5G market of the future. While not all industry watchers are convinced in that argument, Sprint and T-Mobile are hoping to complete their consolidation in the first half of 2019 and deploy a nationwide 5G network come 2020.