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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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this is so AWESOME! if they were to add towers to the dakotas, does that interfere in any way with swiftel? can sprint add towers in the dakotas with out there permission? or how does that work.

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this is so AWESOME! if they were to add towers to the dakotas, does that interfere in any way with swiftel? can sprint add towers in the dakotas with out there permission? or how does that work.

 

The agreement with Swiftel is pretty limited and only covers PCS licenses for the I-29 corridor from Sioux City, Iowa up through Sioux Falls up to Brookings and Watertown. Sprint would be free to set up their own network in the rest of North and South Dakota without infringing on the Swiftel agreement.

 

However, I wouldn't rule out Sprint buying out Swiftel's wireless division or materially working out terms on a new agreement.

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If my math is right, this would increase their total towers by 20%!  Even if over half of them are 2600 only, those will alleviate many holes where people would traditionally drop to 3G or drop in building calls.  Overall, they need to do this if they are going to compete with the big dogs, even though it is probably 10,000 towers short of completely matching their coverage.  Their roaming partnerships for LTE will help make up that difference, and eventually if they see an opportunity to build over or buy one of the other companies they can still do that in the future.

 

I would still like to see sprint buy out US Cellular because of their spectrum and coverage footprint, though I know that their parent company is not interested at the moment. 

 

And here's to hoping that the water tower across the road from me (which has At&t service) gets added at least as a 2600 site as I drop to 1 bar inside my house and even drop calls (b/c my airave hasn't been working properly lately)...

 

Also, I had heard that verizon had recently divested 11,000 towers to a tower management company to pay down their acquisition of the wireless division... I know some new sites are iDen conversions and acquisitions, but I smell coincidence. 

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Guess i will see what happens. It sounds promising but so did LTE and that works half the time. It will be nice if 800 launched in AZ but then i would need a tri-band phone -_-

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Guess i will see what happens. It sounds promising but so did LTE and that works half the time. It will be nice if 800 launched in AZ but then i would need a tri-band phone -_-

I agree that AZ is in desperate need of 800mhz however, even without 800mhz, you're really missing out if you don't have a tri-band phone.  B41 is popping up all over... What are you waiting for?

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What bands would the dual-band sites be? 26/41?

Nevermind, I saw in the thread about this it's 25/26

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Way to go Sprint.  If they need any "ground truth" I can point them to a number of exurban and suburban holes in the West side of the Phoenix market. 

 

This is great and promising news.  Hopefully, I start to see permits run across my desk!

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Looking at the map they are expanding in maine? Or was that the Northeast?

 

The map is generally illustrative. It does not indicate any specific area of growth.

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Way to go Sprint.  If they need any "ground truth" I can point them to a number of exurban and suburban holes in the West side of the Phoenix market. 

 

This is great and promising news.  Hopefully, I start to see permits run across my desk!

 

I'm already planning to compile a list of sites in the Las Vegas Market they can expand to, as well as the Lower Central Valley market.

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this is great. where can we follow new sites? in the regular market-specific forums?

It's hard to say at this point. It depends on how we find out. If it's a small piecemiel regional bit of info, it could be tracked in the market threads. If we find out something worthy of an article, we will post it on the Wall.

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Pardon my ignorance - Can anyone explain a "Clearwire Protection Site"? Protecting whom, or what?

 

TIA.

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Pardon my ignorance - Can anyone explain a "Clearwire Protection Site"? Protecting whom, or what?

 

TIA.

 

A Clearwire Protection Site, also known as a Substantial Service Site, is a WiMax only site that Clearwire put into place where they do not offer service but held a spectrum license.  In order to meet the FCC minimum buildout requirements for the EBS/BRS bands, Clearwire erected more than 700 of these sites nationwide in 2011/2012.  These essentially "protect" the license by meeting minimum requirements.

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Nice research and article Robert.  Let us hope this expansion is completed in the next 12 to 18 months along with the other upgrades.

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Hopefully the backhaul situation will be better managed.

May need to expand realtionship with Dragonwave.

They havealso recently announced their small cell products.

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What will be interesting is to see if they learned from previous mistakes with the nv rollout. From the outside Tmo did their LTE so fast it left sprint in an ugly position. Meaning, many were calling sprint a blunder because how did Tmo do it and sprint still was crawling.. We know there was more to it here than what most people knew. However, this time around hopefully it will move much faster. 

I am not expecting 9000 towers in 12 months but some of those already standing nextel towers should have equipment on them asap. That number should be completed by years end.  Sprint is starting to really roll, getting these towers done should really put sprint back in the game.

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What will be interesting is to see if they learned from previous mistakes with the nv rollout. From the outside Tmo did their LTE so fast it left sprint in an ugly position. Meaning, many were calling sprint a blunder because how did Tmo do it and sprint still was crawling.. We know there was more to it here than what most people knew. However, this time around hopefully it will move much faster. 

I am not expecting 9000 towers in 12 months but some of those already standing nextel towers should have equipment on them asap. That number should be completed by years end.  Sprint is starting to really roll, getting these towers done should really put sprint back in the game.

 

Not really a fair comparison.  Tmo did not take LTE over its entire network in the timeline you reference.  Also, Tmo already had backhaul in place for its WCDMA network.  Tmo deserves an atta boy for a job well done.  But a direct comparison is not really relevant as you outlined.

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What you are saying is correct. However, they set some "gold" standard in deploying as far as what the public perceived. That said sprint did make some mistakes in its rollout. Hopefully they learned from those mistakes. Here in the northeast nextel was very solid in the urban areas.. I really believe if they bring back some of those that are empty it would be huge for us.

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That's great!

 

This ship is back on course.

 

I know Sprint has been busy. This week I've noticed my spark device switching from band 26 to 41 meaning I'm finally going to experience spark in my area of 76009.  I was getting 30-32Mbps dl and now I've been on band 41 with speeds of 60Mbps dl. Wickedly Awesome.

 

Great job Sprint, keep the course and give her full speed ahead warp factor 5.

 

Ps. link to photo pics on band 26/41 & speed tests

 

http://imgur.com/Ij1khua,VEfss0F,TaJBnSv,lN67ZlH#0

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Do some of these "new" sites include upgrading current GMO's?

 

GMO upgrades are handled under a different project.  These are completely new sites to the Sprint CDMA/LTE network.

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