Sprint says let a thousand poles bloom

26 January 2016 by Steve Blum
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Smaller cells on poles in public right of ways and microwave backhaul are Sprint’s formula for future success, according to media reports (h/t to Omar Masry with the City and County of San Francisco for the pointer).

It’s all about operating costs. Right now, Sprint is paying for capacity on Crown Castle and American Tower-owned, full size macro cell sites. Instead, rumor has it, Sprint will opt for a multitude of cheaper small cells stuck on top of steel and/or wooden poles, planted along public roads and such, and leased from Mobilitie, a Newport Beach-based company. Under California law, telephone companies don’t have to pay to use the public right of way and local agencies have increasingly fewer alternatives for influencing what gets built in it.

Sprint doesn’t want to pay to lease fiber either, according to a story in Re/code

The carrier also is seeking to reduce its dependency on AT&T’s and Verizon’s high-speed, fiber-optic cables that provide links to the cellular towers and mobile switches…

Sprint has been been cutting annual checks of $1 billion for backhaul to its two big rivals and, not surprisingly, would prefer to put less money into those companies’ hands. The new plan would instead use microwave technology for this purpose, an approach previously used by Clearwire, which Sprint acquired in 2012.

Think of it as a preview of the world yet to come. Small cells – even smaller and more numerous than what Sprint is planning – will blossom when 5G networks are rolled out in the next decade. Which means more poles, and stuff on poles, in the landscape.