U.S. wireless carrier Sprint is increasingly combining traditional fiber backhaul with microwave and satellite solutions as it works to both densify its network and lower costs.
The company on Wednesday announced a new partnership with Gilat Satellite Networks’ satellite-based cellular backhaul solution to extend LTE services to metro edge and rural areas in the United States.
According to the release, Sprint expects to deploy Gilat’s Capricorn very small aperture terminals (VSATs) as a cellular backhaul solution for rapid deployment of LTE-over-satellite in underserved areas, and as a solution for special events and Mobile Emergency Response efforts across the United States.
The move follows Sprint’s selection last week of DragonWave to supply microwave backhaul equipment for its densification and optimization strategy.
A Sprint spokeswoman on Wednesday said Sprint is extending its toolkit to evaluate a range of backhaul options for each region as it densifies, including Ethernet, fiber, and microwave solutions. The carrier primarily considers satellite as a solution for hard-to-reach rural areas, she said.
Sprint COO of Technology Gunther Ottendorfer said in a statement last week microwave backhaul is a “cost-efficient, reliable alternative,” and noted the technology is a “key part” of the carrier’s toolbox. According to the Sprint spokeswoman, this is because microwave solutions provide “flexibility in how we deploy small cells – with microwave backhaul we are not limited by the cost and availability of fiber.”
The Sprint spokeswoman said the carrier has been using high spectrum bands – including 11 GHz, 18 GHz, 23 GHz, 28 GHz – for backhaul since 2006, and in 2009 added 80 GHz to the fold. Clearwire, which was acquired by Sprint in 2013, also used microwave backhaul in its mobile WiMAX network.
Over the past 10 years, the spokeswoman said, microwave equipment and codecs have significantly improved and now present a “very efficient and reliable” option when deployed in the “right small ring structures.” Sprint currently has “thousands” of cell sites that are being backhauled using the aforementioned bands, she said.
The spokeswoman said the decision to increasingly utilize both microwave and satellite solutions in addition to traditional backhaul comes as part of the carrier’s effort to continue “improving network performance and the customer experience while at the same time lowering costs.”
In November 2015, Sprint announced plans to cut upwards of $2.5 billion in operating expenses. That same month, Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati pointed to backhaul as one of the areas where the carrier was looking to cut costs.
Specifically, Re/code reported in January Sprint was aiming to cut $1 billion by slashing network costs associated with pricey tower lease agreements and backhaul expenses paid to rivals AT&T and Verizon. The latter was slated to be achieved through the use of microwave backhaul, the report said. It now seems that plan is in action.
The spokeswoman said Sprint is working with existing vendors and partners, but is also embracing other companies that offer “innovative new products and services.”
Filed Under: Infrastructure