Despite concerns over recent cuts to its capital expenditure budget, Wells Fargo Securities said in a note this weekend that Sprint's small cell deployment may be in better shape than many think.
According to Wells Fargo, more than 40 percent of Sprint's network traffic is already flowing over its 2.5 GHz spectrum and the carrier has managed to operate without any “meaningful congestion” in recent months.
Additionally, Wells Fargo's Jennifer Fritzsche said Sprint executives indicated during a recent visit the carrier's small cell roll out is moving more quickly than anticipated.
The carrier recently dropped its capital expenditures forecast for 2016 to just $3 billion, down from $4.08 billion in 2015 and well below analyst expectations of $4.5 billion. Many analysts, including BTIG's Walter Piecyk, expressed skepticism that Sprint was really in as good of shape as it claimed on network improvements. Piecyk called the $3 billion figure a "red flag."
Fritzsche said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure attempted to allay those fears during the recent visit.
“Both Claure and the network team indicated, that, while in some markets it has to be more 'patient' overall, the permitting and approval stage for its small cell deployment has been ahead of expectations," Fritzsche wrote.
Fritzsche said the “most interesting” takeaway from the visit was disclosure that Sprint carries more “tonnage per subscriber” in terms of data than its carrier rivals but is only using less than a quarter of its 2.5GHz spectrum.
“Think about that,” she wrote. “Using less than 1/4 of its 2.5GHz spectrum, more tonnage/ sub than any carrier and no meaningful congestion."
Fritzsche also pointed to Sprint's use of Time Division Duplex (TDD) instead of Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) on its airwaves, which allows Sprint to tweak uplink and downlink lanes depending on demand, as an asset that will become more important as networks move toward 5G.
Sprint is the only U.S. carrier currently using TDD, she said.