By Dr. John Saw, CTO, Sprint
2016 was pivotal for the Sprint network. It’s the year we closed the performance gap; it’s the year our customers (and the competition) stood up and took notice; and it’s the year we began running an even better network at a significantly lower cost.
Our strategy in 2016 was squarely focused on leveraging our spectrum assets to improve our coverage and capacity. We dramatically expanded our 2.5 GHz and 800 MHz coverage, put extreme attention on optimizing every cell site, and we deployed advanced technology such as two and three-channel carrier aggregation with antenna beamforming in LTE Plus markets. In November we celebrated the one year anniversary of our super-fast LTE Plus Network which grew over the past 12 months from approximately 100 markets to now reach 250. This year we also shifted the majority of our LTE data traffic to 2.5 GHz.
The results followed. In fact, by almost all accounts Sprint made the most dramatic performance improvement of any carrier in 2016, while at the same time spending less. Out of the many positive reports this year touting our progress, here’s what just a few independent third-parties had to say.
- June 2016 – PC Magazine: “Sprint is finally back!” was the headline we saw in PCMagazine’s2016 Fastest Mobile Networks reportwhich showed Sprint beat T-Mobile and AT&T in average download speeds, and beat Verizon in reliability. Compared to the previous report Sprint’s national LTE Mobile Speed Index increased by 22%, and average download speed across 30 cities improved 62%, jumping from 12.7 Mbps to 20.6 Mbps. Nationally, Sprint’s maximum download speed grew 70%, increasing from 72 Mbps to 122.6 Mbps.
- August 2016 – J.D. Power: While all the various third-party tests are valuable, what we care about most is how our customers rate our performance. This is why we were so pleased to see that Sprint now ranks second for wireless network quality performance in five out of six geographic regions of the U.S., which includes the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic (tie), Southeast, Southwest, and West regions, according to J.D. Power, a leader in independent industry benchmark studies.
- August – December 2016 Nielsen: Customers care a lot about reliability (much more than speed) and this year drive tests in 106 top markets across the country by Nielsen, the world's foremost authority on independent network measurement, show Sprint’s overall network reliability continues to beat T-Mobile and performs within 1 percent of Verizon and AT&T.1
- December 2016 – Computerworld: The editors at Computerworld reported that “Sprint may bethe happiest of all this year, because its numbers are up dramatically compared to a year ago” in their annual customers satisfactionsurvey. Sprint was most improved, with customers’ satisfaction with their Sprint data connection (coverage) up 21%; satisfaction with reliability of data connection up 26%; and Sprint tied with T-Mobile and Verizon for satisfaction with upload speed, improving 18% from last year. As for phone selection, Sprint customers were by far the most satisfied.
- December 2016 - RootMetrics®: For the second half of 2016 Sprint closed out theyear with its highest number of first place (shared or outright) RootScore®Awards for overall, reliability, speed, data, call, or text network performance in the 125 metro markets measured.
We have made tremendous strides in how we operate our network. By moving to a regional model two years ago, we put accountability for every cell site into the hands of local teams. And in 2016, we took back the Network Service Assurance function that was previously outsourced. Being closely connected to our network and our customers is a key aspect of Sprint’s turn-around strategy.
This past year we also showcased our expertise in millimeter and centimeter wavelength spectrum as the first carrier in the world to demonstrate 5G at a large scale public event – the Copa America Centenario soccer tournament.
Innovation and Improvement in 2017
As we head into 2017, we have aggressive goals to keep innovating and improving our network. Our top priority is to ensure a great customer experience by surgically adding more coverage and capacity where it’s needed. Three-channel carrier aggregation (3CA) is already available in more than 100 markets today and we’ll continue to expand our deployment. Just recently we demonstrated speeds of more than 200 Mbps with 3CA on the HTC Bolt (available today) and on the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Apple iPhone 7 (both coming soon with 3CA software upgrades). As High Performance User Equipment (HPUE) devices make their debut in early 2017, we can extend our 2.5 GHz coverage by up to 30 percent to nearly match our mid-band 1.9 GHz spectrum performance, including indoors where the majority of wireless traffic is generated.
In the coming year we’ll keep making progress on our Densification and Optimization strategy. We’ll light up more small cells with a very cost-efficient model using dedicated spectrum and innovative backhaul solutions. We have built great momentum in 2016 and we are very encouraged to see that following our deployment of 200 small cells in Manhattan we saw median download speeds increase 43 percent and median upload speeds increase 56 percent. We’ll also continue to expand our toolbox with other solutions to keep pace with growing traffic and build a strong foundation for 5G. Lastly, in 2017 we expect to unveil some innovative work with 256 QAM and Massive MIMO pushing 1 Gbps class speed boundaries, all on our licensed spectrum. This will be an important demonstration with speed as a proxy for capacity showcasing the incredible potential of our deep 2.5 GHz spectrum position.
I’m grateful to be part of this comeback story with a network that is now performing at best-ever levels. Numerous independent reports all tell a similar story – that Sprint continues to make rapid progress on its network and today the gap in performance between carriers is small. Millions are switching to Sprint, and more are staying, as evidenced by our lowest postpaid churn rates ever. We look forward to the next phase of our journey, and the amazing results we’ll keep delivering for our customers.
Best wishes for the New Year from the network team at Sprint,
1Claim based on Sprint’s analysis of latest Nielsen drive test data (Aug. – Dec. 2016) for average network reliability (voice & data) in top 106 markets.
Rankings based on RootMetrics 125 Metro RootScore Reports from 2H 2014, 2H 2015, and 2H 2016 for mobile performance as tested on best available plans and devices on 4 mobile networks across all available network types. Your experience may vary. The RootMetrics awards are not an endorsement of Sprint. Visitwww.rootmetrics.com for more details.