Sprint has introduced the next phase of its Sprint Vision network improvement plan that would soon make gigabit Internet access over mobile 4G LTE networks a reality. Thanks to the use of its tri-band technology and carrier aggregation, Sprint is able to deliver a theoretical 2 Gbps download speed over its mobile network, with testing showing a maximum 1 Gbps in laboratory conditions. In reality, Sprint says that the initial roll out have 50-60 Mbps speeds, “with increasing speed potential over time.”
This favors well for Sprint, whose network has suffered from slowdowns in recent years as it has been outpaced by rivals Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile in deploying LTE infrastructure. Whereas both AT&T and Verizon promise speeds between 5-10 Mbps downlink and uplink speeds of between 2-5 Mbps, these carriers offer faster real world performance with speeds close to 40 Mbps in California in the San Francisco and Los Angeles markets that I tested. With Sprint promising 50-60 Mbps and even faster speeds in the future, Spark should help Sprint remain competitive in the speed department.
So how is Sprint able to achieve such robust speeds? Part of the reason is the tri-band LTE network. Rather than fixing LTE to a single band of spectrum as its rivals have been doing, Sprint is choosing to deploy LTE on all bands it currently operates on, including the 800 Mhz, 1900 Mhz, and 2500 MHz bands. Additionally, with carrier aggregation Sprint is able to bond multiple bands together to maximize the allocation of resources–in this case reduce congestion and deliver even faster speeds.
“Sprint Spark is a combination of advanced capabilities, like 1x, 2x and 3x carrier aggregation for speed, 8T8R for coverage, MIMO for capacity, TDD for spectral efficiency, together with the most advanced devices offering both tri-band capability and high-definition voice for the best possible customer experience,” said Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint.
Carrier aggregation will be an important part of the next generation of LTE called LTE-Advanced, and Sprint is getting a head start on that with its network today.
Another area that the tri-band LTE method is beneficial is that the network can seamlessly switch between bands depending on operating conditions. Your compatible tri-band LTE device could use one band while you’re using data indoors and switch to a more suited band when going outdoors to maintain faster speeds without straining battery life.
However, to take advantage of the robust speeds, a couple things must happen.
First, you must live in an area with LTE, and in particular with Spark enabled. That’s a very limited geography at this time, but Sprint promises that more markets will be added in time.
Sprint plans to deploy Sprint Spark in about 100 of America’s largest cities during the next three years, with initial availability in five markets. The first markets with limited availability are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Tampa and Miami. Sprint 4G LTE service will be available by mid-2014 to approximately 250 million Americans, and Sprint expects 100 million Americans will have Sprint Spark or 2.5GHz coverage by the end of 2014.
Second, you need a device that supports the tri-band network. There are a few data devices currently on the market, including the MiFi 500 LTE (reviewed) personal hotspot. Additionally, Sprint is promising four phones that will support tri-band LTE, including the LG G2 (reviewed), the Samsung Galaxy Mega (reviewed), the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, and the HTC One Max. These devices will begin arriving in early November according to the carrier.
So while these speeds sound promising, the only downside to Spark is its limited access right now until Sprint is able to more widely deploy new network equipment and light up LTE in more markets. Sprint also needs to start rolling out new devices that will support the tri-band network.
And according to the Now Network, another key benefit to Spark is that Sprint has no immediate plans to change away from its unlimited data plans. Given the faster speeds that Spark can theoretically deliver, customers will be more inclined to do more and use more data. Fortunately, with unlimited, customers won’t be capped or throttled.