Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati touts 2.5 GHz spectrum support for 4G and 5G plans, carrier still on track for Spectrum LeaseCo by year-end
Much of Sprint’s operating future is dependent on its vast spectrum resources, with most of that centered on the 2.5 GHz band. The carrier is currently using some of those assets to bolster its LTE network, but expects that spectrum to also be a significant part of its “5G” plans.
Speaking at a Deutsche Bank investor conference this week, Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati noted the carrier has used various amounts of its 2.5 GHz spectrum to cover approximately 200 million potential customers, which in conjunction with its 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz spectrum holdings are also part of its LTE Plus service.
While rivals are aggregating spectrum assets from across various bands, Sprint is currently focusing most of its aggregation efforts on intra-band aggregation of different channel blocks within the 2.5 GHz band. Robbiati noted the move allows for higher speeds and greater efficiency compared with inter-band carrier aggregation.
“So the debate between intra-band and inter-band is a bit false in my mind,” Robbiati explained. “You really have to look at it and say; ‘If I’m an operator and I have a certain spectrum position, I’m going to leverage all the spectrum I have to be able to deliver to the customer the best customer experience.’ And more spectrum generally is better than less and band size matters in this world of high data consumption which is rising exponentially every 18 months.”
Moving forward, Robbiati said he expects the carrier will tap into all of its 2.5 GHz holdings to bolster network speed, which in some markets exceeds 150 megahertz.
“I think we’ll put eventually all our spectrum holdings on air over time … as we see fit,” Robbiati said. “Remember also that what starts to matter more is the downlink portion of the spectrum as opposed to the uplink portion of the spectrum. Because unless you are an avid peer-to-peer user you don’t lose very much of the uplink components of your spectrum. So it’s really interesting to see the ratios between usage of uplink vs. downlink. The ratio is tilting in favor of downlink because of the change that we see in usage patterns around video. And therefore it’s really important to have a band size that is large enough to cater to that trend. And we’re pretty happy with right now seeing that trend develop.”
The spectrum move also is set to include support for its 5G network, with Robbiati echoing previous comments from Sprint management that the carrier’s 2.5 GHz holdings are set to be the low-band spectrum for the 5G world.
“In our mind 2.5 GHz is going to be to 5G what 800 [MHz] is to the 4G world,” Robbiati said.
Sprint also is tapping into higher spectrum bands in its 5G network trials, including the 73 GHz band in conjunction with vendor Nokia and the 15 GHz band with Ericsson.
As for getting its hands on true low-band spectrum, Robbiati said the carrier’s move to sit out the ongoing 600 MHz spectrum auction was not about its liquidity position at the time, but instead about Sprint’s belief that its current 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz spectrum holdings were enough to support its needs.
“A year ago when I joined, there was a speculation that we did not go for putting our name in for the 600 megahertz auction because we didn’t have the liquidity to do it. And that is not at all why we made the decision,” Robbiati said. “It wasn’t about liquidity, it’s about network strategy. And in the world of 5G, you need to have high-frequency spectrum. Why bid for low-frequency spectrum? We have plenty of it at 800 and 1900 and that’s enough. And the new world will be also involving lower-frequency spectrum for propagation basically for voice, really important to still have access to 800 spectrum and 1900 spectrum. But we don’t want to be buying just for the spectrum. We are building a network for the future. And we have plenty of that spectrum that we can harness and we intend to do so.”
Sprint’s spectrum position also is set to further the carrier’s liquidity needs by year-end, with Robbiati stating Sprint is still on track to raise money on the back of those assets through its planned Spectrum LeaseCo program. Sprint already has raised billions of dollars through its Mobile Leasing Solutions subsidiary and its more recently formed Network LeaseCo.
“We want to make sure that we have the right structure with Spectrum LeaseCo and we’re on track to raise money with Spectrum LeaseCo before the end of the calendar year hopefully,” Robbiati said.
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