Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
September 28, 2017 - 2:30 PM PDT
[Edit: 4/6/18: Reflects Airave 3 discontinuation]
It has been 6 months since I first learned of and received access to what is now called the GEN1 Magic Box. I wrote up my thoughts about it a few months back. Sprint has now evolved to a GEN 2 Magic Box model. These units are being distributed to customers who preordered after Sprint's announcements. I've now acquired a GEN2 Magic Box myself.
Upon opening the package, the most immediate and noticeable difference between the Gen 1 and Gen 2 Magic Box is the absence of an external portable battery. This was useful to lug the Magic Box around and test different locations in order to select the best spot for unit placement.
On the surface this may appear to be a way to decrease unit costs. This may be true, but the Gen 2 model contains two CR18650 rechargeable lithium batteries integrated inside of the package for the same purpose. No more using a dongle and a hefty battery pack that could be easily lost!
[2nd Generation Magic Box white colored on left, 1st Generation Magic Box black colored on right[
Along with the new internal guts, the external aesthetics and materials were also modified. The Gen 1 model had a super bright LCD display with a black front surrounding by white plastic. The new Gen 2 model has an eInk display with a touch power button below it on the front with the entire exterior being a reflective polished hard plastic.
What didn't change is the GEN2 is still an all wireless small cell with no requirement of hard wired backhaul supplied by the user. It still uses LTE UE Relay to acquire an existing Band 25 1900 MHz or Band 41 2500 MHz connection from an existing donor site, which is then fed to the small cell unit and broadcasted as a new LTE Band 41 2500 MHz carrier. The LTE Relay unit supports up to 2 carrier aggregation on Band 41 to the macro donor site.
Now to the meaty parts. The performance. Let these screenshots tell the story.
The extremely significant data speed and signal improvements that were experienced by the original Magic Box still exist with the 2nd generation unit. The GEN2 matches and exceeds the performance of my original Magic Box, especially in the upload category. This is due to the newer LTE Relay module design which utilizes a higher gain antenna. A very satisfactory model upgrade. It upholds the positive impressions I outlined in my original article.
These units just can't come out fast enough so that more people can enjoy it!
The Magic Box is not a panacea, but is a very good solution in many locations. Now that thousands of these preordered boxes are hitting the streets in countless different deployment scenarios, lots of limitations and bugs are being discovered. With varying impacts. The Magic Box doesn't work for everyone everywhere due to the very nature of its all wireless design. In most places, it works as advertised. Just power up and let it rip. In a few locations there is something lacking which causes units to not fully configure. This results in errors such as the infamous "20% initialization" or "cannot connect to mobile network" screens that pop up.
We researched, asked questions and were informed that Sprint's LTE Relay configuration is of the out of band variety. This means that the LTE UE Relay operation and the small cell eNB signal has to operate on different frequencies. So in Sprint's case, a market must have Band 41 High and Low separation in order for a LTE Relay to work. Thus, Sprint must have spectrum in the Band 41 low range (2500-2570 MHz) and the Band 41 high range (2620-2690). If a Sprint market does not have said spectrum with such a separation, the relay link cannot be established and the Magic Box will not work.
In markets where such spectrum peculiarities exist and areas where the macro 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz RF signal is not strong enough to establish a LTE Relay backhaul connection for the Magic Box, there exists other alternatives available from Sprint. These alternatives are the
Airave 3 LTE and Commscope S1000 NSC which will be offered to subscribers who do not qualify for a Magic Box or in a location where the Magic Box does not work. The subscriber will require a home broadband connection in those instances.
The Airave 3 LTE is the traditional CDMA + LTE Band 41 + WiFi femto cell. It is the successor the Airaves of old. The Commscope S1000 NSC is a LTE Band 41 + WiFi only femto cell which is in essence the Airave 3 minus the CDMA capabilities. If a subscriber desires voice and data enhancement then the Airave 3 should be what the subscriber seeks. If the subscriber does not need voice enhancement due to sufficient macro voice coverage but need 4G LTE data enhancement, then the S1000 NSC would be a better fit.
There is a solution for just about everyone now. There now exists an all wireless self configuring LTE small cell, a state of the art and award winning LTE small cell, and which when paired with a CDMA module produces the newest successor in the Airave family. All of which will bring extreme improvements that Sprint subscribers can realize instantly.
The densification of Sprint's network is now beginning and it all begins with one quite magic(al) box.