Sprint CEO Michel Combes put on a hard hat to talk about the carrier's tower strategy with network technicians while helping them attach an upgraded network module to a tower. While doing so, he chatted with the technicians about the carrier's 5G strategy and how it plans to get there, as well as the kinds of equipment used and the upgrade process for a tower. Combes did not mention the upcoming T-Mobile merger that much of Sprint's 5G strategy leans on, opting instead to talk about the Now Network's current strengths.
Combes' talk with Sprint staff centers on the company's wealth of 2.5GHz spectrum, and for good reason. This spectrum started out as the basis for the company's iDEN push-to-talk network back in the day, and is now being refarmed into high-speed, long-range LTE access points. The same spectrum can be used to interlink small cells and other, faster access points, leading Combes to call it the company's "entry door to 5G". Sprint also has spectrum to fall back on from its old WiMax network, a predecessor to LTE that was comparable to GSM' carriers HSPA connections. That network has yet to be completely decommissioned due to some old legal obligations, but it holds potential as a 5G vector once it's all freed up. This video highlights just one pillar of Sprint's long-term strategy, which is to upgrade gradually to 5G while giving customers gradually faster speeds and better capacity. The company plans to take a multi-pronged approach to 5G, with small cells being an integral part of the puzzle.
Not too long ago, in a bid for extra cash, Sprint sold off many of its towers and is currently leasing them at discounted rates. This ownership complication may affect the company's ability to upgrade and scale 5G technologies as they hit the market, possibly resulting in a delay for commercial 5G operations. It's not hard to see why Sprint is so eager to go through with its T-Mobile merger; the union will give both companies something they desperately need in order to bring their 5G networks to life. Sprint needs capital and towers, and T-Mobile needs high-band spectrum, such as the massive store of 2.5GHz that Sprint has. Should the merger fall through for any reason, both companies' contingency plans involve a longer wait for 5G and lighting up the network with vastly less original capacity. Before the merger, Sprint planned to rely on small cells and use its larger towers as backhaul, while T-Mobile planned to farm out 5G on its 700MHz towers, expanding them and tying them into higher-spectrum equipment in order to help the signal reach the places it needed to go.