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New iPhone 6S could let Sprint network shine

Matt Hamblen | Sept. 11, 2015
With carrier aggregation in Denver, Sprint is starting to double speeds for newest phones.

Credit: Source: TheDarkThing/Flickr

LAS VEGAS -- Apple gave Sprint a little gift this week with the new iPhone 6S in the form of faster wireless speeds via a technology called carrier aggregation.

The only problem is that Sprint is just at the beginning of rolling out carrier aggregation capability nationwide, a process expected to take place over the next two years. Just this week, Sprint announced the technology's availability in Denver.

Carrier aggregation technology allows a wireless company to send a data signal over two or more wireless channels at once, thus increasing speed and capacity. Both the wireless network and a smartphone must support the technology for it to work. The latest Apple smartphone does, although Sprint only has the technology in limited places.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure called attention to the new technology in the iPhone 6S before a live audience today at CTIA Super Mobility 2015. In Denver, Sprint was named by Root Metrics this week as the fastest network over its three largest competitors, Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile, owing primarily to the carrier aggregation capability.

"With new iPhone 6S, speeds will double or triple," Claure told the CTIA crowd. "The first place [that carrier aggregation] was deployed was Denver...and it will happen in market after market in the next two years."

The question is whether that pace will be fast enough to give Sprint the edge it needs to battle T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon, as well as any potential wireless newcomers.

"Sprint's moving so slow on network improvements that it's not even funny," Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said in an interview at CTIA. "Sprint has awesome assets and is utilizing them the least. As far as carrier aggregation, customers can't really use it, except in Denver. They've been saying it will take two years to upgrade the network since 2005, so they have to do a lot more."

Despite that stinging criticism, Entner also stressed that if Sprint could drastically accelerate its carrier aggregation technology rollouts, it would win -- hands down -- the race for faster network speeds. And customers would likely flock to Sprint.

"If they quickly rolled out carrier aggregation nationwide, they would win the speed crown and nobody else could come close. Speed is everything," Entner said.

The reason Sprint could do so well, he said, is because of its massive wireless spectrum holdings, which amount to more than any other carrier on the globe. With carrier aggregation specifically, Sprint has enough spectrum to be able to run two channels that are each 20MHz in size side by side, something no other U.S. carrier has. Based on current spectrum holdings, rival carriers would only be able to match a 20MHz channel with a 5MHz channel, yielding less capacity and speed, Entner said.


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