CTO, Sprint: “Interoperability between FDD and TDD offers exciting opportunities”

Stephen Bye, CTO at leading US operator Sprint is speaking on Day One of the TD-LTE conference, taking place on the 23rd-24th April 2013 at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel, Singapore. Ahead of the show we speak to him about Sprint’s role is leading the TD-LTE charge.

How is the progress of your LTE roll-out going in the US?

We are very excited about 2013.  We continue to make solid progress and we have strong momentum. We have been launching five to ten LTE markets each month since July 2012. For the rest of 2013 – we plan to launch in more and more markets. As of early February, we have launched LTE in 58 cities and announced nearly 170 more where LTE is coming soon. We have well over 200 markets where we already have one or more sites on air for 3G enhancements and/or LTE.

Why you believe that TD-LTE is a better choice for delivering mobile data than FDD LTE?

We support the use of both. Their use is linked to specific spectrum allocations. We are using FDD-LTE with Band 25 and Band 26, while we are also working very closely with Clearwire on support for Band 41 TDD-LTE.

The inaugural TD-LTE Summit is taking place on the 23rd-24th April 2013 at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel, Singapore. Click here to download a flyer.

There are big changes afoot for Sprint – you have announced plans to acquire Clearwire, and in turn Softbank has announced its intention to buy 70 per cent of Sprint. Assuming these go ahead could you summarise how this will reposition Sprint in the US market in terms of spectrum and economy of scale?

Even as a standalone business, our wholesale relationship with Clearwire provides us with access to additional LTE capacity to support the data needs of our Sprint customers.  Our Network Vision architecture allows for better strategic alignment and the full utilisation and integration of additional spectrum bands, while achieving operational efficiencies and improved service for customers as the spectrum and network is migrated to LTE standards.

Sprint spent heavily to get the iPhone. What impact is this having on Sprint and how critical is it for you that the next version will offer support for TD-LTE?

The iPhone has been an important device in our portfolio and, with our competitive ‘Truly Unlimited’ plans we have been able to win over new customers to Sprint. For the last reported quarter, 4Q 2012, we sold nearly 2.2 million iPhones in the quarter, with 38 per cent of the activations being new customers to Sprint.

Will Sprint continue with its unlimited data strategy for LTE?

We continue to offer our customers simplicity with our unlimited data plans and they offer a great value to new and existing customers. These plans have been very successful for Sprint, and we plan to continue to offer them to customers.

With both FDD and TDD spectrum what are the challenges around interoperability?

Interoperability between FDD and TDD offers exciting new opportunities.  Significant progress has already been made to ensure that users can operate between these two duplex modes. Working with our key suppliers and other operators, Sprint continues to work on evolving the interoperability specification to enhance the already existing solutions. The continued work in 3GPP, defining the test specifications and developing interoperability specifications, are critical to achieving economies of scale and broad adoption.

Does TD-LTE offer up any specific challenges around backhaul?

No, operators have the same challenges for backhaul regardless if it is a TD-LTE system or an FDD system. The bigger issue is having a more competitive backhaul market in the US.

What plans do you have for carrier aggregation?

Carrier aggregation is something we are studying but do not have anything to share at this time.

Where do small cells fit into your strategy?

We remain on the same strategic path shared last year. Small cells and heterogeneous networks are just one piece of a larger solution. In theory it looks great. The challenge is the cost of large-scale small-cell physical deployment.

What do you think will be the most exciting new development in the TD-LTE market in 2013?

2013 represents a year where we are seeing more wide-scale deployment and adoption of TD-LTE technology. This is important to achieve the necessary economies of scale and we look forward to helping build the ecosystem for TD-LTE.


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