By Phil Goldstein
Before SoftBank’s $21.6 billion deal to take control of Sprint (NYSE:S) was finalized, Sprint formally referred to the after-transaction company as “New Sprint.” Nearly six months after Sprint shareholders approved the deal, it seems like the new Sprint is finally starting to emerge. SoftBank, which now controls around 80 percent of Sprint, has given the No. 3 carrier a mandate to build the fastest and most robust LTE network in the U.S., and perhaps the world. Whether Sprint can deliver on that expectation will be the game to watch for all of 2014.
SoftBank’s influence over Sprint may be subtle but it’s clear that without the Japanese company’s money and input Sprint’s major network push for the future, its tri-mode LTE service dubbed “Sprint Spark,” would not be possible. Bob Azzi, Sprint’s chief network officer, acknowledged as much in a recent interview with FierceWireless, noting that the success of Spark relies mainly on a nationwide deployment made possible with Clearwire’s 2.5 GHz spectrum.
More importantly, Spark also relies on massive new 2.5 GHz radios with capabilities for 8 Transmitters 8 Receivers (8T8R), which Sprint has said will be the first deployment of its kind in North America. Azzi said Sprint’s network team worked with SoftBank technologists to glean lessons from SoftBank’s real-world deployment of TD-LTE on 2.5 GHz in Japan. The two teams collaborated on “specific technical nuances” of the radios. Additionally, Sprint and SoftBank also joined forces when it came to evaluating vendors for the new radios.
Azzi noted that SoftBank had much deeper experience with Nokia Solutions and Networks (NYSE:NOK), which had not been a vendor for Sprint’s Network Vision network modernization project. SoftBank not only recommended NSN but connected Sprint executives with counterparts at NSN more quickly and effectively than Sprint officials would have been able to by themselves. “It’s a better outcome than we would have gotten on our own,” he said.