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Enterprises get a boost from Sprint thanks to LTE relay

Sprint launches wireless indoor small cells

Enterprises are hearing a lot these days about the opportunity to connect everything to wireless networks, but they know that job one is making sure their people are connected. Sprint is addressing that challenge with a new wireless small cell that the company calls Magic Box.

Developed by Airspan in partnership with Sprint and SoftBank, the Magic Box uses LTE relay instead of Ethernet or fiber to connect to the Sprint network. It can be deployed anywhere that power is available and good cell service isn’t.

“One Sprint Magic Box can cover an average-sized small business or home, and can benefit adjacent Sprint customers inside the building,” Sprint CTO John Saw said in a blog post. “The signal also extends data coverage outside the building, benefitting Sprint customers in nearby buildings (particularly in dense urban areas) while also improving street–level network performance.”

Saw said Sprint customers will see an average increase of 200% in both download and upload speeds when they use the new small cell. The company has been testing the Magic Box with customers in Denver, San Francisco, Indianapolis, New York, Chicago, and Houston, and will now roll it out nationwide. The Magic Box will be free for “qualifying customers,” Sprint said.

Sprint COO for technology Günther Ottendorfer explained that “qualifying customers” are those who do not currrently have good coverage and are near enough to a macro site to get a signal.

“We want to make sure that in the location you are using it you have a donor,” Ottendorfer said. “For most people it should be no problem.”

Ottendorfer said Sprint has already trialed the new small cell with hundreds of enterprises, including mulitinational corporations. More than 6,000 customers have trialed the Magic Box so far, Ottendorfer said. He said it has performed very well in urban, suburban, and rural environments.

“We are improving the coverage for our customers not only indoors but also outdoors,” Ottendorfer said. He said that when the Magic Box is deployed indoors, the area outside the building also benefits.

The small cell leverages Sprint’s high frequency spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band. This spectrum is best suited for connections over short distances, and Sprint has more high band spectrum than any other U.S. carrier.

“Because of our treasure trove of spectrum, Sprint can dedicate the spectrum needed to blanket its network with all-wireless small cells that deliver a dramatic performance boost with zero backhaul, permitting, and engineering costs,” Saw said.

Enterprise customers will probably view the Magic Box as a substitute for a cell signal repeater, but technically it is quite different. While a repeater re-transmits an existing signal, an LTE relay device connects directly to a cellular base station, receives and processes the signal, and transmits a new, clean signal.

LTE relay is part of the LTE-Advanced standard. Sprint is using full-duplex in-band LTE relay, meaning that the carrier carves out part of the 2.5 GHz band for the small cell relay.

Sprint is also championing new smartphone technology that it says will help mobile devices better use the 2.5 GHz band. Called high performance user equipment, the technology is currently available on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and at least two other Android smartphones.

The 2.5 GHz is also seen by Sprint as ideal for 5G, which is expected to leverage high band spectrum to quickly deliver large amounts of data to a variety of devices. Engineers are also looking at ways to use LTE-A and LTE relay to support IoT connections.

Sprint is also thinking about future use cases for the LTE relay small cells. Ottendorfer said that the carrier sees great potential to leverage the platform, both in home environments and in metropolitan settings

“We are very passionate about this product, we see great potential, and we are thinking really in different directions,” Ottendorfer said.

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