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

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Nokia’s network division is returning to work at Sprint 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 or Verizon Wireless, 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

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