Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 7:46 PM MST
Exciting breaking news from the S4GRU.com News Desk. Yesterday, I received a tip that Network Vision/LTE Deployment was under way in a market that S4GRU had not yet announced (although we were just about to). An unnamed S4GRU Reader contacted me and said they had witnessed Network Vision work under way in the Freehold area of Central New Jersey. Better yet, he talked with an engineer at one of the sites and got his name and phone number for me. Sure enough, I called the name and number.
The engineer I spoke with agreed to a telephone interview, but asked to remain anonymous. He works with one of the subcontractors for Alcatel/Lucent. I received a lot of good information as a result of our conversation.
Sprint's Central Jersey market. Work on its 289 Network Vision sites is confirmed under way. Click to Enlarge.
Item #1 – The Central Jersey market is actively receiving Network Vision upgrades
Alcatel/Lucent and their merry group of subcontractors have started deployment in the Central Jersey Sprint market and they are scurrilously bringing you upgraded sites online. There are approximately 290 sites in the Central Jersey market, making it relatively small compared to many others. The first cluster in this market of approximately 20 sites are under way, with just over a dozen complete.
If current schedule holds, the entire market will be complete by early Summer. Sprint 4G Rollout Updates will now move the Central Jersey market from Second Round deployment to First Round in the Network Vision/LTE Deployment Running List thread.
Central Jersey Network Vision sites complete. This map illustrates the 13 sites that have completed Network Vision upgrades in the Central Jersey market.
Item #2 – Testing Sequencing (in all markets)
Some readers have complained because they have gone to an active Network Vision deployment area and not seen any improvement in signal nor performance. Even though the work appears physically done. New panels, new RRU’s visible, lots of new coax and new base station cabinets. Is Network Vision a bust?
Au contraire! When the work at a site is physically done, in most cases, a waiting game occurs. Network Vision upgrades are not made live to the general public until all the sites in a cluster are complete and tested. The legacy system stays in place, operating just like normal, and the new system stays dormant. When all the sites within a cluster are complete, the testing phase occurs on the new Network Vision system within that cluster.
Testing is being done in the PCS G-block on 1900. 1xA carriers, EVDO carriers and LTE carriers. This is being done so as to not interfere with existing customers. Customer can go on blissfully unaware that anything is afoot. Since there is only 10MHz of G Block spectrum to be exploited for testing, first only the voice and 3G EVDO testing will occur. During this phase, route drive testing will occur all over the cluster. Checking performance is occurring per design and also E911 testing is conducted.
If all checks out, the 1xA and EVDO carriers will get moved off G Block frequencies and LTE testing commences. No 800MHz testing is being conducted at this time, though hardware is being deployed for both a single 1xA voice carrier and a 5x5 LTE carrier on SMR to be tested and activated in the future. Presumably after iDEN is decommissioned in each market.
After all the testing is said and done, the whole cluster will be brought up at once. The legacy system will be shut down and the Network Vision system with enhanced backhaul will go live. This is when customers will likely notice performance differences. Signal improvement should be in the 20% range for most customers. Backhaul will be significantly improved, so faster 3G speeds should result in most cases.
Not all sites will get 800MHz service. Sites that have limitations to RRU placement may not get 800MHz service at all. Also, there will be several sites in each market that will receive 1xA 800MHz voice carriers, but not 800-LTE service. 800MHz LTE service is being identified mostly for additional capacity urban sites and major highway sites to increase coverage. This will be especially helpful in rural places where spacing is a problem.
Even though there will be less sites with 800MHz coverage, there will still be more 800MHz coverage area in most markets than 1900MHz coverage. This is because PCS towers at an urban density are too dense for 800MHz service to be on every one. So approximately every other site will not have 800MHz in dense locations. But a user next to a PCS only site in a dense environment will still get a solid 800MHz signal from another 800 site a half mile away. So there is very little coverage difference that results.
Item #3 - LTE Speeds...you heard it here, first!
LTE speeds being encountered are good for a 5x5 carrier. These are not going to blow Verizon’s LTE network out of the water any time soon. Subcontractors in the field are seeing speed tests that are far exceeding Sprint’s design intent for their LTE network. The design threshold was for 6Mbps - 8Mbps download speeds at normal signal, normal load. Sprint is considering to advertise its 4G LTE typical speeds of 5Mbps - 8Mbps download, with bursts over 15Mbps. Uploads in the 2Mbps - 3Mbps range.
Field engineers are experiencing steady 12Mbps+ download speeds consistently in an unburdened network. Occasionally breaking 20Mbps. This is good news for just a 5x5 LTE deployment. When you consider that Sprint’s LTE meets or exceeds the performance of Clearwire’s WiMax with smaller carriers, it’s a very good sign.
What makes this even better than Clearwire’s WiMax network is that the coverage will be much more uniform from 1900MHz frequencies (and even better in 2013 with 800MHz) than what is experienced currently from the WiMax network. Also, market coverage will be much more broad. There are some WiMax sites, especially some really underburdened Protection Sites that can experience speeds in this range. However, most WiMax sites are considerably slower these days. Distance from the site and cell congestion are the biggest factors affecting LTE speed testing trials.
It will be critical for Sprint to constantly monitor the network and keep up with adding additional LTE carriers and bringing them online as capacity starts to fill at each site. Each site will start with a FD-LTE carrier on 1900, then adding a FD-LTE carrier on 800 when needed, and even more TD-LTE carriers from Clearwire when needed beyond that.
This is not a real screen shot from an actual Sprint LTE speed test. Shown for illustrative purposes only.
EDIT 3/2/2012 - Changed speed listings from MB to Mbps to be technically accurate. Which is the best kind of accurate. Thank you to S4GRU Member Mix for pointing it out.