RCR Wireless reported this week on Sprint’s indoor small cell solution, which they’re calling Magic Box. This approach involves installing this device where there’s power and it then connects wirelessly to Sprint’s network over its 2.5 GHz frequency. They call this connection “LTE relay”.
Practically this looks like a cellular signal repeater but technically it’s different, according to Sprint. Whereas a cellular signal repeater simply re-transmits the existing signal, the Sprint device connects directly to the macro cellular base station, receives and processes the signal, and then transmits a new, clean signal.
The downside to this approach is it does require a good, clean connection from the Magic Box location to the Sprint network. And since this connection is via its 2.5 GHz spectrum, the connection distance will be limited. Sprint has reported deploying 6,000 of these devices and they’ve worked well. It also suggests they will be “free” for qualifying customers.
This approach probably will not solve a systemic Sprint cellular problem inside a commercial, multi-family residential or other large (greater than 100,000 square feet) building. It certainly does not follow either Verizon or AT&T’s approach in terms of small cells that can act as stand along signal sources and connect via ethernet to the core network. But given Sprint’s plethora of 2.5 GHz spectrum, it’s a viable addition to their densification efforts.