Sprint Unveils Ultrafast Spark Network

by Matt Klassen on November 4, 2013

Contrary to the sage advice from the classic feel good sports movie Field of Dreams, just because you build it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll come, even if what you’re building is an enhanced LTE network. So while it’s unlikely Sprint’s new ultrafast Spark network will attract a torrent of new subscribers because of its limited availability, the fact the company is developing such technology, analysts say, may be just enough to keep current questioning subscribers hanging around. Perhaps the adage should be, “If you build it, they will stay.” Less catchy I’ll admit.

There is no doubt though that Sprint, which has fallen sorely behind in the network race, needs a boost, and the company is hoping its new Spark network will deliver just that. The network, touted as the future of high speed wireless, is capable of data transfer speeds of a blazing 1Gbps, although initial tests deliver top speeds somewhere in the 50 to 60 Mbps range. Of course that still significantly outclasses Verizon, who delivers somewhere between 5 and 12 Mbps.

So why won’t Sprint be awash in new subscribers with this new futuristic technology? Simply put, while Verizon’s network may be slow in comparison, it reaches 303 million people…one number Sprint doesn’t even come close to matching.

Sprint may have watched 360,000 customers jump ship during the last quarter, but its clear the company is hoping to stem that tide, perhaps even reverse the trend entirely, with its new enhanced LTE. The network technology utilizes what is likely Sprint’s most unique resource, its bandwidth diversity. As CNET’s Roger Cheng explains, “Spark is able to deliver higher LTE speeds because it juggles three spectrum bands, entailing Sprint’s spectrum, spectrum from its now defunct Nextel network, and spectrum taken from its acquisition of Clearwire.”

In order to be able to “juggle” these networks, a new breed of “tri-band phones” will be needed, ones that are able to smartly switch between the 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz bandwidths. The tri-band smartphone is then able to alternate “between the three bands depending on which speed the user needs, and optimizes the devices for running data-heavy applications such as video, gaming, cloud services and video chats.” In the near future the Nexus 5, LG G2, and Galaxy S4 Mini will have this ability.

While its clear that Spark is part of Sprint’s revitalization strategy, given that the technology will only be rolled out in five major markets—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Tampa and Miami,Fla—it’s clear that Spark exists more as a promise of future development rather than a full-fledged wireless service.

In the end, while Sprint has plans to roll out this service to 100 million Americans by the end of the year, and plans to reach 250 million Americans by 2014 with some form of its LTE network service, the truth of the matter is by then the other major wireless players will have responded to Sprint, improved their own networks, and moved on, once again leaving Sprint in the dust.

As AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel quipped, “A demo counts as much as making a touchdown with no other players on the field,” meaning that customers should wait to see how AT&T and Verizon respond to this challenge before thinking Sprint has revolutionized anything. That said, it never hurts to be the one to lay down the challenge to the market incumbents, and if nothing else, Sprint has certainly done that.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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