Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
May 19, 2017 - 8:30 AM PDT
The Sprint Magic Box was announced on Sprint's quarterly earning call earlier this month, and was heralded as the first truly all wireless small cell in the industry. So what is this mystical beast that is purported to increase coverage by up to 30,000 square feet, amplifies data speeds, and "boosts" your data signal?
This is the 1st Generation Sprint Magic Box
In more technical terms, the Magic Box is an Airspan product under their Airunity line. The black colored model that exists in the wild, and which I procured contains the Airspan Airunity 540 small cell eNB. Whereas the white colored Magic Box advertised by Sprint is a newer model that contains the Airspan Airunity 545 small cell eNB. The primarily difference is that the unreleased white Magic Box is able to broadcast at twice the transmit power compared to the black model which results in substantially increased coverage area in addition to the LTE UE Relay Module having HPUE capability.
These are all wireless small cells as there is no requirement of a wired backhaul solution like traditional Femto cells like the pending Sprint Airave 3 LTE, Commscope S1000, or the T-mobile LTE Cellspot.
Instead, the Magic Box (MB) utilizes a technology called LTE UE Relay that is integrated into the overall package. The Magic Box contains an Airunity LTE B41 2500 MHz small cell and a LTE UE Relay device called the ninja module whose only job is to establish a data link to a macro eNB LTE 1900 or 2500 MHz signal and then feed a data connection to the Airunity small cell.
For more on LTE UE Relay: see here
Once the Relay link is connected and data flows to the Airunity eNB, a new LTE 2500 MHz signal is then created and broadcasted from the unit. This signal is unique to the Magic Box and is available to use by any compatible Sprint device that can access the LTE Plus (2500 MHz LTE B41) network.
Unlike a repeater setup, the Magic Box does not simply take an existing signal and amplify it and all the accompanying noise and interference. This is a brand new and very clean LTE signal being broadcasted.
The following screenshot from Network Signal Guru app displays this clearly.
The Magic Box in my location broadcasts a brand new LTE carrier with frequency located on EARFCN 40270 (2558 MHz) while the macro donor eNB signal of 40978 (2628 MHz) is used as backhaul (LTE Band 25 1900 MHz can also be used).
[As of July 2017, the Magic Box had its LTE carrier center frequency switched to 2518.4 MHz or EARFCN 39874. Signal Check Pro screenshot]
This means, instead of a weak edge of cell LTE signal with the accompanying band switching that substantially impact device stand by times and I may lose deep inside the building, a Magic Box allows a Sprint device to connect to a strong and clean LTE 2500 MHz signal which blankets the formerly weak LTE coverage area.
As a side effect, LTE speeds may also be dramatically increased due to the better signal level and quality being broadcasted by the MB whose LTE Relay Module can connect to what may have been previously an unusable 2500 MHz network. Especially when placed by a window as recommended.
In my more than one month of observations using the Magic Box, I was able to connect to a LTE 2500 MHz signal from inside a suburban family residential building where such a signal was previously unusable. Furthermore, not only did the Magic Box boost the data signal from weak edge of cell service with consistent frequency swapping that had previously killed our devices battery life, but it also increased the LTE data speeds substantially to the tune of 200-300% over what we were previously getting over LTE 800 and 1900 MHz.
Whereas previously the house was a weak coverage area where LTE 800 MHz was predominant with even parts dropping to EVDO 3G, the new LTE signal broadcasted by the MB covers the entire house and then some through multiple interior walls and even an exterior brick wall before handing over back to the macro network.
So what's my view on the Magic Box?
It can't come soon™ enough for more people to use and enjoy.