Ahead of the LTE North America show next week on 14-15 November at the Fairmont Dallas Hotel, Texas, we speak with one of the leading US carriers about its LTE progress. Stephen Bye is the CTO and vice president of technology development & strategy for Sprint, the third largest carrier in the US. He gives us details on Sprint’s progress on LTE and how it continues to differentiate itself from its rivals.
What have been the main developments for you over the last six months with regards to LTE?
Our focus continues to be on improving the customer experience by modernising the network through the Network Vision program. We are utilizing the 800MHz and 1900MHz spectrum for enhanced CDMA coverage and performance with support for LTE. Our recent launch of LTE has been the culmination of substantial development over many months by many teams within Sprint and working together with our key strategic vendors: Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Samsung.
Sprint launched 4G LTE in more than fifteen cities including Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio. We expect to bring approximately 12,000 Network Vision sites on air by the end of 2012 and to complete the majority of the roll-out in 2013.
In addition, Sprint launched its first four 4G LTE smartphones: Galaxy Nexus, LG Viper 4G LTE, HTC EVO 4G LTE and Samsung Galaxy S III and announced the upcoming Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE.
With 10MHz of bandwidth for LTE how long do you think you can remain committed to unlimited data?
Sprint is the only US. national wireless carrier to offer truly unlimited data for smartphones while on the Sprint network with no throttling and no overages. We feel that this offer is what our customers are looking for – simplicity, convenience and great value. These plans have been very successful, and we expect to continue to offer them to customers. Sprint has no current plans to offer tiered data pricing for smartphones. In addition, we are the only U.S. national postpaid carrier with an unlimited data plan for the iPhone.
How else do you feel you can differentiate yourselves from the larger players in the market?
Our focus is on our customers and we walk the talk – it is all about customer experience.
For several years now, improving the customer experience has been one of three primary areas of strategic focus for Sprint (the other two being building the brand and generating cash). Our focus on the customer is paying dividends. For instance, since the first quarter of 2008, calls per subscriber to customer care have been reduced by approximately 46 per cent. And we achieved an all-time low level of calls per subscriber to Customer Care in 2Q 2012.
Sprint is number one among all national wireless carriers for customer satisfaction according to results from the 2012 American Customer Satisfaction Index. In addition to ranking first among national wireless carriers, Sprint was also the most improved company in customer satisfaction, across all industries, during the last four years, according to the survey. Also, since the beginning of 2011, Sprint and its prepaid brands Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA have earned nine J.D. Power awards, including awards for customer service satisfaction and purchase experience satisfaction.
Your network is unusual in that you run multiple technologies. What are the timescales for running each one and what kind of challenges does it throw up?
Through Network Vision, Sprint is simplifying its network structure. Network Vision is rolling out LTE and enhanced 3G service nationwide and expects to largely complete it by the end of 2013 — two years sooner than originally scheduled. At the heart of Network Vision are multi-mode base stations consolidating multiple network technologies into one seamless network with the goal of increasing efficiency and enhancing network coverage, call quality and data speeds for customers across the United States.
At the same time, we are decommissioning the iDEN network. We are pleased with our retention of Nextel platform subscribers. In the second quarter of 2012, 60 per cent of customers who left the iDEN network went to the Sprint postpaid platform.
While we continue to deploy CDMA and LTE using the PCS spectrum, we are repurposing the 800MHz spectrum that was being used for iDEN, to support CDMA and LTE. We are also working closely with Clearwire to integrate and support LTE within the 2.5GHz spectrum. We are converging towards support for CDMA and LTE.
There has been successful downward pressure on roaming charges within the EU – is roaming outside of the US an issue for you?
As we look to the future with the increasing availability and coverage with LTE, there are some technical challenges related to LTE roaming. One relates to the number of bands being deployed and the physical limitations that can be supported on a device. The service provider industry will need to work collaboratively to harmonize and consolidate the number of bands defined.
Is there enough innovation occurring in the mobile network industry? Can you provide some examples?
I continue to be surprised at the level and the extent of the creativity in this industry, the many other business models it enables and the value which is unlocked and created.
The challenge with many new innovations with an eye towards future success in the mobile industry is the lack of a sustainable operating business model. Many start-ups look to achieve a quick return on investment through an acquisition and this approach is often inconsistent with our business model where we are looking beyond quick hit deals.
Attend LTE North America 2012 to hear from the leading US carriers including AT&T, MetroPCS, Verizon, US.Cellular, T-Mobile USA and Clearwire. To see the full speaker line up click here. The conference is on the 14-15th November 2012 at the Fairmont Dallas Hotel, Texas. Click here to download the full conference program.