You may be familiar with a technology called carrier aggregation, which makes use of otherwise unused spectrum and pulls carrier bands together. This results in a wider thoroughfare for data and faster speeds as a result. Sprint is making some of the biggest strides with carrier aggregation out of all of the nation’s biggest carriers, leading to top or near-top speeds in testing markets for the technology. Known to Sprint customers as LTE Plus, carrier aggregation is available in over 150 markets at the moment and normally gets peak speeds of 200 Mbps, with speeds averaging a bit lower than that. The Galaxy S7, however, is the first of a new wave of handsets that feature compatibility with three-band carrier aggregation. In Sprint’s testing, this has led to speeds up to a blazing 300 Mbps.
Sprint’s spectrum holdings in key markets usually surpass those of other carriers in sheer volume, making carrier aggregation the logical choice for network improvement. Sprint holds over 150MHz of spectrum in about 100 key markets around the U.S., meaning that the expansion possibilities for LTE Plus in these markets may stretch even further than what’s been achieved thus far in testing. Sprint is still experimenting with the Galaxy S7 and three-band aggregation at their lab in Reston, Virginia. Although 300 Mbps is very impressive, it is unlikely to be the best speeds achievable on Sprint’s network, even in its current form.
Sprint’s plans to sit out the upcoming FCC spectrum auction likely indicate more testing and rollouts like this to come, building on existing technologies and using their existing spectrum holdings. Testing for new devices will continue as they become available, leading up to the eventual commercial rollout of three-channel aggregation in existing LTE Plus markets. Although their current high-frequency spectrum holdings may be voluminous enough to support such expansion, it will be interesting to see how Sprint plans to compete with carriers that attend the auction and pick up lower-frequency spectrum that can penetrate buildings better and have a wider range. Sprint’s existing network will likely require heavy buildout efforts to rival those of competitors who participate in the auction, but Sprint’s current tactics point to a focus on wider coverage and higher speed.