Blog Post

Sprint, Nokia squeeze a 2.6 Gbps connection out of a Spark network trial

Nokia’s(s nok) network division is returning to work at Sprint(s s) after a multiple-year hiatus, and it apparently wants to make a good impression. Nokia announced it has used its Flexi base station gear to transmit an eye-popping 2.6 Gbps downlink connection on Sprint’s Spark LTE network, breaking Sprint’s previous record of 1.6 Gbps.

Nokia was able to accomplish this feat by tapping into Sprint’s enormous treasure trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum. Using LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation techniques, Nokia and Sprint bonded together 120 MHz of frequencies, giving it six times the bandwidth of most LTE networks deployed in the U.S. today.

In addition, Nokia likely took advantage of the unique properties of the LTE technology variant Sprint uses in Spark. Time division-LTE uses the same frequencies to transmit to and from the tower – it just sends the uplink and downlink in different time intervals. Most other LTE network use frequency division configurations, which create separate channels for upstream and downstream connections. Think of FD-LTE as a divided highway, while TD-LTE is a single-track railroad.

cell phone tower / cellphone tower / antenna

The advantage of TD-LTE is that it can devote a greater portion of its bandwidth to downstream communications if there isn’t much upstream traffic on the network. Consequently, Sprint can use nearly all of its 120 MHz to create a massive downlink pipe while other carriers would be limited to using half their bandwidth. Nokia and Sprint said they’ll recreate the trial at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year.

These trials show that Sprint has enormous pent-up capacity waiting to be unleashed. The problem is that the company isn’t in any hurry to unleash it. It just likes to flash these kinds of impressive speed results around, and talk about the network it could build.

Today, Sprint’s primary LTE network is the slowest in the country and has the smallest coverage footprint. Its new Spark service is definitely an improvement, but it’s still an average 4G system with the same capacity as the other carriers’ first-generation networks. Considering that Sprint is much smaller than AT&T(s t) or Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod), it could get considerable mileage out of Spark – once it’s finally built. Right now Spark is in just 12 cities, and Sprint is moving very slowly to expand that coverage. Its target is 100 cities in three years.

As I’ve said before, Sprint has run out of excuses. With its acquisition of Clearwire it’s firmly in control of its spectrum future, and with SoftBank’s massive investment, it’s no longer financially strapped. If Sprint wants to convince us it’s investing in its network, then it should really invest in its network.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user SERHAT AKAVCI

20 Responses to “Sprint, Nokia squeeze a 2.6 Gbps connection out of a Spark network trial”

  1. Interesting comments from all. As someone who has been a loyal Verizon consumer for decades. I can tell you that if Sprint get’s spark right and it is a price point that the average consumer can afford then there will be a shift in the mobile marketplace the likes of which have never been witnessed before. Sprint will go from the outhouse to the Penthouse and be the darling of Wall street. As someone who has been at this for the better part of 25 years I can assure you from a purely sales perspective that Big Red better pay attention. While it is true that with Nokia’s help they have accomplished a truly remarkable bench mark, it is also true that without it they did a whooping 1.6 gbs!! Nokia handsets dominated the market place for the better part of the 90’s today they barely exist in the US where all of this is relevant today. As I write this I still have Big reds legacy unlimited plan on LTE. They would love for me to go to a metered plan. NOT. I will be watching Sprint with an eye to the future. If they can deliver I will be there customer. Only time will tell

  2. May I comment on the other part mentioned in this article that made the 2.6Gbps possible? Nokia carved out its network division in 2007. Since then NSN is an own company. The fact that we’re 100% owned by Nokia now has not changed our company structure. As long as it is like that, please refer to us as NSN.

  3. Magenta Maniac

    First off, is GigaOm starting to delete comments that they don’t agree with? We all know that Sprint has, under the leadership of SoftBank, issued very conservative projections.

    Secondly Sprint has had to reconstruct their entire network because the old one wasn’t going to cut it. They had to redo their entire structure unlike TMobile which bolted LTE atop their HSPA+ 42 network. It also required a shift from 3GPP2 to 3GPP.

    Finally Sprint spends $8 billion on their networks. That’s twice what TMobile spends. At some point that will be reflected. Reality will strike.

    • Well, if reality ever strikes maybe their network will be decent again… Or maybe all of their executives will finally get fired by Masa Son. Right now its absolutely atrocious.
      And they keep making these useless lab test headlines like there is no tomorrow.

      • robtheslob

        I actually have the Sprint spark network up and running in my area.I have to admitits its the best speed I have ever had with Sprint I am getting download speeds of 30-50 Mnps this is on a consistent basis. One problem though you cannot be on a phone call and send or receive texts messages at the same time and of course you cannot be on the Internet and the phone at the same time. They are working to resolve this issueit has to do with some kind of fall back issues when On the spark Network.

  4. Kevin, why don’t you quote something other than your own article about Sprint’s rank in terms of coverage footprint? Try, which is based on actual data. I know you might not like the truth, but Sprint has the 2nd largest LTE coverage footprint, behind Verizon. You may be right on speeds (for now…not so much 6 months from now), and there are studies to back that up, but there is no data to back up your erroneous claim that they have the smallest footprint. It’s simply not true.

  5. VernonDozier

    Oh geez.

    Sprint’s LTE is proprietary again; similar to WiMax. Remember that technology? It was “fastest” for a long time, but nobody really needed those kind of speeds. So, we’re back at a place where Sprint has to custom-make all their devices again.

    Remember, this the same reason Sprint went belly-up before, and had to be rescued by the Japanese.

    • PinkStinks

      Vernon, it seems that you don’t know what the term “proprietary” actually means. Going by your misuse of the term, AT&T’s LTE is actually more “proprietary” as nobody else uses Band 17. Verizon’s LTE is actually more proprietary as nobody else uses Band 13. At least Band 41 (which is what is used for Spark) will also see usage in Japan and China at a minimum.

      BTW, Sprint doesn’t custom make their devices. They don’t make devices at all. They let companies that you may have heard of such as Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, etc. make their devices…just like every other carrier.

      It also seems that you’re unfamiliar with what the term “belly-up” actually means.

      Oh geez indeed.

  6. Sprint is conservatively projecting their TD-LTE buildout.

    Also, T-Mobile has had far less to do in their LTE buildout. Their network modernization was far more of an evolutionary step opposed to Sprint rebuilding the whole network. 3GPP Long Term Evolution, mind you, not 3GPP2 Long Term Evolution. Of course Sprint’s rebuild is far more complex and fraught with obstacles than TMUS adding a Flexi here and putting an RRU there. Complete and total apples and oranges comparison.

    Sprint is outspending TMUS 2 to 1 on average in capital build, at some point the reality will surface again and T-Mo will realize they’re going to get outgunned in the bandwidth battle, and at that point they’ll be back at the table.

  7. Tubaman93

    False about sprint having the smallest LTE footprint. Do some more research besudes osme outdated “coverage maps”. And as a comparasion, Launched cities mean nothing, it is a PR to show accepted Coverage. TDD-LTE is available in many more than 12 Cities, Widely built out in those cities as well. Please Learn to use accurate information, unless you are just trying to be a one sided Magenta Writed

  8. adam cole

    I totally agree with that article. sprint talks a big game but could care less about the customer. I sure hope sprint does not combine with T-Mobile. All sprint is trying to do is take out the competition So T-Mobile can’t throw sprints name in the ground.

    • bucdenny

      T-Mobile is not competitive. They barely making profit. The big two are posting billions in profits a quarter. How T-Mobile competing? By lower prices? By paying up front billions to get customers? (ETFs)

      Look at it long term, T-Mobile cannot keep on burning cash if it ain’t making billions in profits per quarter. The big two will squash them in any auction for spectrum.

    • VernonDozier

      It may be the fastest, but it will only work with Sprint phones. No unlockable phones.

      This is the second time Sprint did this. The last time, they launched something called “WiMax” but it was considered a flop; no one bought it.

      WiMax was interesting. It had a lot of investors, but Sprint spent the most money on lavish technology conferences happening on golf courses, and 6-course meals after 18 holes. Sprint nearly went bankrupt. Eventually the CableTV companies quit sending people because no work got done.

      No matter how much money Sprint spent, they simply couldn’t sell the fast WiMax service. If my friend was accurate, most of the accounts on the network were “demo” accounts setup for employees at BestBuy, and security cameras.

      • soonerBoomer

        Yes they do work on unlockable phones. Hence the s4 triband, you can unlock And use on other carriers, nexus 5, and almost all of the future devices will be able to be unlocked. But you have to pay for the device to be able to get it unlocked. They aren’t going to just sell you a s4 for a contract price and just have it unlocked for you. That is stupid practice as you can ditch the company and go anywhere you like. All carrier lock phones.

      • bucdenny

        Dude, Wimax was 2008. Verizon didn’t have LTE then. The gov said to Sprint deploy what you had bought or lose it. LTE was mature at that time. What did you expect. Give some credit since they did deploy Wimax but Clearwire ran out of money doing so.

        Now today, Wimax are being converted to LD-LTE. It should be fairly quick just like T-Mobile did with their “HSPA+” overlay with LTE.

        With over 60Mhz of spectrum on average, that is 2 times the capacity what T-Mobile and Verizon can offer today. It is only time before the new Spark network is up. Give them a chance, Softbank only bought them 6 months ago.

    • The problem with Sprint right now is that they are screwing over their existing customers by degrading their network to almost a unusable state. In many — MANY — areas, 3G doesn’t work or barely beats 1990s dial up speed. This week in San Diego, the best Speed Test I got was 0.12Mps and it’s like this elswhere. Sprint forums are filled to the brim with these complaints.

      When you talk to Support it’s the same story: We’re upgrading our network please be patient. Over and over and over again.