Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Friday, February 8, 2019 - 8:00 AM PST
Sprint’s tribanding project has reached a new phase -- former Clear LTE 2500 only sites are getting new equipment as reported by nowerlater in Cincinnati, Joski1624 in Cleveland, and here in Columbus.
Converting sites from LTE 2500 only to triband LTE 800 MHz, LTE 1900 MHz, and LTE 2500 will significantly improve network performance in the traditional metropolitan areas of markets where Clear sites reside. Adding LTE 1900, LTE 800, CDMA 1x1900, and 1x800 will mean stronger signal with improved building penetration that will allow surrounding sites to better serve their more immediate coverage areas. This added site density will be a key factor in performance improvements needed for high quality VoLTE (Voice over LTE) service.
Upon completion, site density for the non-LTE 2500 bands will increase an astonishing 57% in Franklin County (Columbus) Ohio. There are currently 162 macro sites not counting factory and private office building sites. There are 93 stand-alone Clear sites. Hamilton County (Cincinnati) will show a 61% increase in site density for the non-LTE 2500 bands. Additional Clear sites lie outside these counties in both markets. The level of increase will vary from market to market.
Market wide LTE 1900 performance will improve if this increased site density allows for fewer 1x1900 CDMA carriers per site. This would allow refarming of spectrum to increase the bandwidth for LTE 1900. Minimum LTE bandwidth allowed by many of Sprint’s Remote Radio Units has been increased in recent months according to the FCC. This will be market dependent.
There will be a 50% or more LTE 2500 capacity improvement at most Clear sites. Mini Macro Clear sites broadcast only one or two carriers, while most metropolitan areas triband sites broadcast three carriers with up to five carriers at some sites. The tribanded Clear sites go from having Mini Macros to 8T8R remote radio units at most sites, but some sites may retain existing Mini Macros in some markets. With 8T8R, these tribanded Clear sites will also get improved performance and coverage. Samsung Clear equipment used in portions of the south and east often have three carriers thus will primarily gain benefits from the improved coverage of the 8T8Rs.
Tribanding the Clear Mini Macro sites will also improve the LTE 2500 performance of surrounding triband sites. If your phone is on the third carrier and you currently drive into an area primarily served by a Clear site your triband site signal will get weaker and weaker until it drops. The LTE 2500 at these existing Triband sites currently carries an extra burden.
Let’s dive further into the details. We have been watching for these site builds for many months. Permits were first seen in the early fall in Columbus, for example:
ALTC1800834: ANTENNA UPGRADE TO AN EXISTING CELL SITE OF SPRINT. REMOVE (3) ANTENNAS, (3) MM RRUS, AND (3) 15/64" COAX. INSTALL (3) ANTENNAS, (9) RRHS, (3) 1-1/16" HYBRID CABLES, GC SUPPLIED RET CABLES, (3) OPTIC FIBER JUNCTION CYLINDERS, (3) POWER JUNCTION CYLINDERS, (1) SITEPRO SNP-12NP SECTOR MOUNT AND HANDRAIL KIT. REMOVE EXISTING CLEARWIRE GROUND CABINETS AND INSTALL ALL NEW SPRINT ECAB & ICAB COMBINATION CABINET AND PPC ON NEW CONCRETE PAD. REMOVE ALL POWER AND FIBER CABLING TO RRHS.
Permits and drawings were also found in Sacramento by our resident staff Tim (lilotimz), with one site even going from CA to Massive MIMO: The Network Vision plus LTE 2500 using 8T8R LTE 2500, LTE 1900, and Four Port LTE 800,and the much rarer Massive MIMO LTE 2500/5G future, LTE 1900 and Four PORT LTE 800.
A big question was whether the sites would have CDMA or just be VoLTE. Most Sprint phones in use today can only use CDMA. OceanDave picked up the first Clear Triband Conversion signal in his logs recorded on 11/30/2018. Joski1624 found and confirmed CDMA 1x1900 and 8T8R LTE 2500 at the site once the logs were analyzed in early January. Here is a screenshot from Joski1624 showing LTE 800 and 1x800 from the same Clear conversion site:
Cleveland has confirmed other sites. Nowerlater has reported similar results covering bands 25 and 26 from other Clear sites converted to Triband in the Cincinnati Market
Here is a photo of a Columbus Clear site being converted to Triband. You can see that the Clear Band 41(inside red outline) is still wired and was quite functional at the time of the photo. 1) Clear antenna (remove), 2) Mini Macro (remove for most sites), 3) Microwave antenna for redundant backhaul (will likely remain if present). This is becoming a Triband Hexadeacport 16 port Antenna Setup outlined in yellow with 1) 8T8R LTE 2500 Remote Radio Unit, 2) LTE 1900 Remote Radio Unit, 3) LTE 800 four port Remote Radio Unit, 4) 16-Port Triband Antenna.
In this next photo you can see the old cabinet on its metal grate and the new cabinet on new concrete. The underground conduit needs to be placed then the concrete poured before you will see cabinets.
Some of the sites will have double cabinets (permits say Eltek, but observed cabinets do not match catalog). Note that they are pre-assembled, in this case by Stonecrop Technologies. These sites are also getting new Purcell cable boxes.
In Columbus, 86% of the Clear sites have permits. New permits are still being filed. We began finding permits for Clear conversions last October. Permits are active for one year. They can be extended, but typically the work will be done in that time period. It is quite possible the FCC will not approve the merger into T-Mobile until December or later based on the Shentel – nTelos merger. This merger could finish sooner or not at all. If the merger is approved this work would likely stop, but any completed site work would benefit existing Sprint customers during the estimated two to three year transition period (market dependent).
If all Clear sites were converted to triband, here is an image of roughly where the sites would strongly benefit in the traditional Columbus metro area:
Please note that actual site coverage areas are not circular but are shaped between a three bladed airplane propeller and a three leaf clover. There would be significant variations from the heat map above. Of course Columbus overall has Network Vision and other Next Generation triband sites.
These Ohio markets mentioned have active S4GRU signal hunters, thus are likely a proxy for what is happening or will happen in other markets with active former Clear LTE 2500 only sites (for clarity we will now refer to them as Clear sites). Indeed lilotimz has found permits and drawing in Sacramento. Reddit user Marley3456 has confirmed triband Clear sites in Salt Lake City Utah, thus they very likely exist in other parts of the country. The following cities in state order all had more than 10 Clear sites with LTE in 2014 thus are likely prospects for this type of change:
If your city is listed above, how will you know if you will benefit? Start looking looking at the Clear sites in your city today and be observant of any changes. Help is available here at S4GRU.com if needed. Online guides can help: Nokia Mini Macros on Macro Sites, Samsung LTE 2500 Remote Radio Units and Antennas. It will be worth knowing if your market will benefit from the significant capacity improvements of the Clear site Triband conversions!
Edited 2/8/19 to better cover Samsung Clear Sites.