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Sprint planning large network expansion adding 9,000 new LTE sites nationwide

S4GRU

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by Robert Herron

Sprint 4G Rollout Updates

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - 2:45 PM MST

 

Sprint is embarking on a significant expansion of its network. The first major addition of compatible sites to its network in a decade. Past expansion has been limited to buyouts of Nextel and Clearwire, both of which included networks of different technologies. Organic growth has not been on the table for Sprint in some time. Sprint is expected to announce these plans in the not too distant future, once finalization of details and funding is complete.

 

Since the beginning of the year, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure has hinted to this network expansion in social media and in pep talks to various Sprint employees. Some of whom have contacted S4GRU after hearing Marcelo’s vague references in meetings about the upcoming expansion. But this is the first time we have received specific information from inside Sprint.

 

The purpose of these 9,000 new sites is to expand coverage into new markets, add critical rural coverage where high roaming occurs, capture lost coverage from the shutdown of the old Nextel iDEN network, extend coverage to new suburban areas, and densify the network within existing coverage.

 

This plan is very targeted by market and includes a significant capital spend investment. The affected areas are seen as critical to Sprint for future growth and reduction of operating expenses in key roaming areas.

 

With the useable area of Sprint’s low frequency spectrum in the SMR 800 band about to expand even to the border areas, thus allowing nationwide coverage, the buildout of new markets and new rural areas has never been more practical or obtainable to Sprint. Allowing for new areas to have a less tight buildout requirement in site density in small towns and along highways and increase signal strength indoors in cities. The new management of Sprint sees this as the point at which they can move forward and accomplish these once seemingly lofty goals.

 

The juicy details

 

S4GRU recently received some details of the project from an internal Sprint source, speaking off the record. The current details of the plan breakdown as follows:

  • 1,100 - Decommissioned iDEN sites converted for new Sprint CDMA/LTE coverage and increased density in some key under served areas (Dualband and Triband)
  • 1,600 – New coverage expansion sites targeting high roaming areas and key identified market expansion areas (Dualband and Triband)
  • 800 – New Dualband sites in exurban and new suburban areas places with new or projected population growth
  • 500 – New Triband sites in Urban and Suburban areas to infill coverage where 1900 and 2600 currently do not reach or reach well and 800 capacity would also be improved
  • 5,000 – New Urban and Suburban TDD-LTE 2600 “Spark” only sites infilling existing coverages for better signal quality, indoor performance, and capacity. It is not known the mix of macro sites and small cell sites.

One exciting part of this addition to S4GRU is capturing decommissioned iDEN sites. This is something that we have long advocated. In a takeoff I did of the iDEN sites back in 2012, I estimated that Sprint needed only approximately 1,000 of the iDEN sites to equalize coverage for the CDMA/LTE network and densify some critical areas of some lacking markets. Like Baton Rouge and Grand Rapids. Perhaps decision makers at Sprint read S4GRU after all? I am happy to see my estimate was quite close to theirs.

 

Interestingly, there is no mention of Clearwire only sites that are in good locations for Sprint to expand or densify Network Vision CDMA and LTE. Not to mention also the 700+ Clearwire Protection Sites. Many of which are in places Sprint does not currently offer service. Like my corner of the Dakotas.

 

Project Ocean

 

In addition to this new Expansion Project, Sprint also already has two existing projects under way for targeted regional expansion based on recent acquisition. In Missouri and Central Illinois, Sprint is working on Project Ocean, which involves adding more than 100 former U.S. Cellular sites. Some of these sites are already online with many more coming online within the next 6-8 months.

 

The bulk of these adds are in Suburban St. Louis. However, there are a couple dozen rural USCC sites that are also being captured in the Project Ocean program. Sites where demographics are supportive to expansion or high roaming costs make the additional sites worthwhile.

 

Project Cedar

 

A thousand miles to the northwest, Sprint is embarking on Project Cedar in Montana. A plan to add 230 sites to the Sprint network in the Treasure State. Sprint purchased the defunct network assets from Chinook Wireless back in August of 2014. Chinook Wireless operated their service under the Cellular One name in Montana. Project Cedar takes the Chinook Wireless decommissioned sites and adds Network Vision DualBand and TriBand sites in their place.

 

We assume Project Cedar is being done by Samsung, as past geographic maps from Sprint show this area to be Samsung. There was a Field Implementation Test (FIT) for LTE Band 26 (SMR 800MHz) done by Samsung in Montana back in 2013. We never did find out where in Montana this FIT was conducted, and it may even be live for commercial traffic now. S4GRU members travelling in Montana, be on the look out for B26 LTE signals and new Samsung equipment being installed.

 

In my cursory review, it appears that the footprint offered by Chinook would have been served by 120-140 sites at best using PCS 1900 spacing. Since Sprint is looking to do 90-110 more than that, it’s possible Sprint could be extending service well into the Dakotas and Wyoming under this project. Beyond the reach of the old Cellular One coverage area.

 

I could see them covering all the Chinook coverage plus I-25, I-90, I-94 in Wyoming and the Dakotas as well as Casper, Gillette, Rapid City, Pierre, Williston and Bismarck with 230 sites. Heck, convert Swiftel’s 50 sites in Eastern South Dakota while you’re at it! Swiftel is a sore subject with us, and we will save that for another day.

 

Funding and implementation

 

According to the source, Project Ocean and Project Cedar are already funded. The additional 8,000 site expansion with unknown project name has funding earmarked for its planning and initial start. However funding sources and final scope are being worked out. It is likely Sprint will make no comment on the matter until these last two items are resolved probably next quarter.

 

However, Sprint is already moving on initial planning and key sites as they come available. No good opportunity will be lost during the planning process. And maybe there are some more regional plans in play?

 

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Hoping for new sites in east Texas!

 

I think any unique iDEN legacy coverage areas will be the most likely places to focus on first in your area.

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Alaska? I am certain there is plenty of roaming in and around anchorage. Verizon is really the only national carrier in the area, as far as I know.

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Might I actually be able to retire my Airave in a formerly-iDEN-covered, insecure, undisclosed location in central Georgia, before the mighty SouthernLINC builds RRPP coverage there? Woot!

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Alaska? I am certain there is plenty of roaming in and around anchorage. Verizon is really the only national carrier in the area, as far as I know.

 

We have no specific information about Alaska.  But it is plausible.  Especially in Anchorage where Sprint inherited a good amount of Clearwire Expedience sites that could be converted to Network Vision.  Sprint also has Clearwire WiMax Protection Sites in Fairbanks and Juneau that could be useful to provide fair coverage using 800MHz.

 

AT&T is the major provider in Alaska, providing much more coverage than Verizon.  Verizon is a rather newcomer to the Last Frontier.  We have very credible rumors that Tmo is making an Alaska move.

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Wow, that's very good news.  Just hope the build out is fast, fast, fast!  I'll keep sending in my network reports via the "Sprint Zone" app. :) 

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I would like Sprint to start a "Project Blue" to bring service to the Blue Ridge Mountains! :)

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I wonder if SoftBank is kicking in any capital or if those recent Notes issues ($1 Billion and $1.5 Billion) announced on Feb. 19th are paying for it.

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Wow.  I had lost all hope for the critical Nextel sites since they took all the equipment down.  They had some of the best site locations in SW Michigan, and Sprint shut almost all of them down and left the existing CDMA middle-of-nowhere, makes-no-sense, signal-covers-a-few-trees-and-three-houses-before-becoming-unusable site locations.

 

Now...where do I put in a request for specific IDEN locations? :)

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Great to hear!  I don't think we need too many more sites here in the So. Cal area as we got a lot of expansion the first time around with the iDEN synergy sites.  But I'm sure some areas could use some new sites.

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We have no specific information about Alaska.  But it is plausible.  Especially in Anchorage where Sprint inherited a good amount of Clearwire Expedience sites that could be converted to Network Vision.  Sprint also has Clearwire WiMax Protection Sites in Fairbanks and Juneau that could be useful to provide fair coverage using 800MHz.

 

AT&T is the major provider in Alaska, providing much more coverage than Verizon.  Verizon is a rather newcomer to the Last Frontier.  We have very credible rumors that Tmo is making an Alaska move.

 

How soon for T-Mobile? They bought a 700 MHz license there and have an unlimited roaming partnership with GCI (biggest coverage and possibly biggest provider in AK).

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There are still a few holes in SoCal. (Insert joke here.)  In addition to expanding rural coverage, I think Sprint needs to make it a priority to have leading coverage/speed/capacity in key large markets like New York, L.A., San Francisco and Washington DC -- markets with high population density.  Chicago is a good example of where things can go.

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Sounds like the Japanese experts have finished looking things over and said "This is what it'll take to fix her."

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Wow.  I had lost all hope for the critical Nextel sites since they took all the equipment down.  They had some of the best site locations in SW Michigan, and Sprint shut almost all of them down and left the existing CDMA middle-of-nowhere, makes-no-sense, signal-covers-a-few-trees-and-three-houses-before-becoming-unusable site locations.

 

Now...where do I put in a request for specific IDEN locations? :)

 

I know of a few sites I'd like to see be iDEN conversions.

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  • The Wall Articles

  • Wall Comments

    • to me rural coverage matters most....because i like being able to make phone calls and send texts in remote areas of the country ...i dont care about speeds i just care about per square mile coverage and over all usability and reliability
    • Tell us how you really feel @MrZorbatron!

      I think that most cellular players exaggerate their coverage. Yes, I suspected a long time ago that T-Mobile was one of the most egregious. Now according to the merger presentation, they will end up with 85,000 macro sites. That will be enough to match the coverage of pretty much everybody.

      Like you, I appreciate not having dropped calls or undelivered texts. In my area on my T-Mobile MVNO, I don't get any but can't say it won't happen elsewhere. Once Charter offers service via their Verizon MVNO, I think I will move my 4 personal lines there. My business line will stay on Sprint/T-Mobile, well, because I can't control that.
    • I do not welcome any part of this.  I don't think T-Mobile really cares about doing anything they say they care about.  I have seen how truly bad their network is in the ways that matter for essential communication, and I want nothing to do with it.  Say what you want about Verizon, but the one thing they have in common with Sprint is that they have historically built out a solid network before trying to make it extremely fast.  I don't care about 50 Mbps to my phone.  I care about calls that don't get disconnected constantly.  I care about that stock trade getting through when I send it, even if carried by EVDO, because EVDO still gets it through. Sprint's "Outdoor coverage" maps might seem exaggerated to some, but T-Mobile's maps are a complete joke.  Maybe Michigan is a bubble, the only state where this is true, but it really is very true here.  T-Mobile is the network of dropped and undelivered calls, mysterious disconnection, and "call failed" error messages. If this goes through, look for me at the nearest Verizon store because price to me is absolutely irrelevant.  I see two things happening if this merger goes through:  1:  Sprint spectrum is used to bolster capacity at T-Mobile sites, and 2:  As much of the current Sprint network as possible goes away, even if it means losing sites that would provide valuable fill-in density.  I saw the latter happen with Sprint and Nextel, after they insisted that all Nextel sites that could serve to increase Sprint coverage would be used.  Similarly, there were locations T-Mobile could have used MetroPCS locations to improve their own coverage but didn't, even where it left holes in their network.
    • Not when Verizon just bought 1GHz of mmwave spectrum. Those were the policies of the past. If it does not get approved, it would the loss of jobs and the fact that it might not be good for consumers. Although when I look at the table on this page, comparing unlimited plans, it is already evident that the other three are not really competing and Sprint's lower prices are not working since they did not manage to steal anybody from the other other three. To me it is evident that were Sprint to remain independent they need massive investment in their network since competing on price is not enough anymore and low prices just deprive their network of investment.
    • And I would definitely say that merger probably or probably not won't be approved. If not I would have to say it would be on the grounds of cellular asset divestiture.
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