Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati alluded to the carrier’s network virtualization technologies during the company’s latest fiscal quarterly conference call. Robbiati noted Sprint managed to slash its yearly capex from $4.7 billion in 2015, down to $2 billion in fiscal 2016. While cuts came from a number of areas, Robbiati noted some of that amount came as a “result of software-driven deployments of capacity through carrier aggregation and surgical deployment of small cell.”
Larger rivals AT&T and Verizon have been very aggressive and vocal on their plans to tap software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), and cloud technologies to enhance their network operations. AT&T has said it plans to have 55 percent of its network functionality converted to SDN control by the end of this year, having hit 34 percent at the end of 2016, and with plans to hit 75 percent control by 2020.
Sprint late last year announced plans to launch a software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) service using an over-the-top platform from VeloCloud and targeting enterprise customers. Earlier this year, Sprint joined the Linux Foundation’s Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter (CORD) Project, which is focused on accelerating the adoption of SDN and NFV for service providers using open source platforms like Open Network Operating System (ONOS), OpenStack, Docker, and XOS.
During this year’s Mobile World Congress 2017 event in Barcelona, Spain, Sprint CTO John Saw said the carrier would talk more later this year about its virtualization plans, but those plans would not mimic plans of its larger rivals.
“We won’t have a big announcement,” Saw said. “But we will have a growing part of our network done by virtualization.”
Despite the significant cut in fiscal 2016 capex, Robbiati said the carrier plans to double spending in fiscal 2017 to between $3.5 billion and $4 billion “as we ramp up our densification and utilize the expanded toolbox of the various cost-efficient coverage and capacity options,” and continue around at least that spending level over the next three years.
Magic Box Into the Mix
Sprint’s network densification plans are set to now include its “Magic Box” product, which is similar to traditional femtocells in boosting a network signal over a small geographic area or inside a building. However, the shoebox-sized device does not require wired backhaul provided by the customer and instead relies on the carrier’s licensed 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz spectrum to backhaul traffic to a nearby traditional cell site.
The carrier noted the device also has embedded software and dedicated 2.5 GHz channels to reduce noise and interference issues that can impact traditional network repeater devices.