sprintUpdated evening of Oct. 30 with additional information from Sprint

Sprint hopes to enable next-generation online gaming, virtual reality, advanced cloud services and other ultra-high-bandwidth services with its Sprint Spark service announced today. Sprint Spark uses a variety of wireless technologies to boost network bandwidth to speeds as high as 50-60 Mbps with the potential to go as high as 2 Gbps in the future, Sprint said.

Sprint Spark will be available soon in parts of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Tampa and Miami. Smartphones capable of supporting the service are expected to be available in early November and will come from HTC, LG and Samsung.

A Sprint spokeswoman said Sprint Spark will not have a separate plan but will be available under the same terms and conditions the carrier offers today. To use Sprint Spark, customers just have to get a device that supports Spark connectivity.

The technology behind Sprint Spark includes:

  • Multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) for capacity
  • 8 Transmitter 8 Receiver (8T8R) radios operating in Sprint’s 2.5 GHz band, which according to the company provide “improved coverage, capacity and speeds when compared to the more traditional 2T2R or 4T4R radios used by our competitors”
  • High-definition voice
  • The ability to work seamlessly in three different Sprint spectrum bands, including 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz by “transparently shifting from one band to another, depending on such factors as location or type of application” and supporting active hand-offs and data session continuity as the devices move between spectrum bands

Sprint said it demonstrated total throughput of 1 Gbps using Spark technology in one of its labs today.

High-bandwidth apps
A Sprint You Tube video offers a flavor of the kinds of applications that Sprint Spark could eventually support.

The video starts off with a boy wearing a special helmet pitching a ball in his backyard.

Although the ball hits a net, an image of the pitch appears on the special helmet of another boy, apparently located in another country, who hits an image of the ball with a bat. A display then shows the ball’s path and the words “ground rule double” appear to both players.

Also included in the video are a telemedicine app in which a remotely located nurse speaks to a patient about his vital signs, a video camera with facial recognition is used to allow a grocery delivery person into the home and watch him until he exits, and more.

The video closes with the words “It takes a network.”

TDD-LTE and FDD-LTE co-exist
Sprint noted that it is deploying FDD-LTE, the type of LTE most commonly used in the U.S., in its 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz spectrum bands. In the 2.5 GHz band the company is using TDD-LTE technology – an option that is gaining in popularity outside the U.S., including in Japan where Sprint owner Softbank has deployed the technology.

To support Sprint Spark, Sprint will be using 2.5 GHz equipment from Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia Solutions and Networks and Samsung, with each company providing about one third of the total.

Updated later on Oct. 30- A Sprint spokesman got back to us with some additional details in answer to questions we posed about Sprint Spark.

QUESTION: Is Sprint Spark based on LTE-A?

ANSWER: Sprint’s initial deployment of TDD LTE on its 2.5 GHz spectrum is not based on LTE-Advanced. As the deployment becomes broader, key elements of Sprint Spark will be carrier aggregation and MIMO which are features of LTE-advanced. Today, with a tri-band device, a customer could experience TDD LTE on the 2.5 spectrum and get peak speeds of 50-60 Mbps. Later w/ carrier aggregation (and the aforementioned features, speed expect to further increase).


QUESTION: Can you explain carrier aggregation?

ANSWER: Essentially, this relates to our 2.5 spectrum resource. As you probably know, spectrum is made up of channels. We’ll be deploying a 1×20 MHz channel this year (deployed in five markets already) that will produce peak speeds of 50-60 Mbps; by the end of next year, we expect to have deployed a 2×20 MHz swath of 2.5 spectrum—basically, the squishing together of two channels; by the end of 2015, 3x carrier aggregation of a 3×20 MHZ. So, aggregating spectrum channels…in a contiguous sort of way…in the 2.5 GHz band.


QUESTION: Will your LTE service have HD voice or will only your 3G service have it?

ANSWER: HD Voice is a component of 3G service and our overall Network Vision build-out. By the end of this year, 85 million people will have access (on an intra-network vendor sort of way—Samsung to Samsung or Ericsson to Ericsson); by mid next year, the number grows to 250 million people. We’ve already sold 8.5 million HD-voice enabled devices and expect to reach 12 million by the end of 2013…w/ an expectation we’ll sell 20 million by end of 2014.