Sprint introduces Magic Box, and it’s not a simple repeater

Sprint unveiled Magic Box, an LTE-Advanced User equipment (UE) Relay product produced by small cell manufacturer AirSpan and designed to improve coverage for Sprint customers.

It’s not a repeater, as Sprint CTO John Saw explained in a conference call with members of the media, but uses dedicated channels to reduce noise and interference. A simple repeater would amplify the signals of macro towers, along with the noise and imperfections, running the risk of degrading the whole experience.

“It’s a far cry from just a repeater,” he said, explaining that it improves the efficiency of the network as long as it has a good connection to the macro cell. It will work with any Sprint phones using 2.5 GHz. The backhaul channel uses 2.5 GHz or 1.9 GHz, but ideally it would use 2.5 GHz because that offers a lot more capacity.

The Magic Box includes self-organizing network (SON) capabilities and operates on its own channel in Sprint’s spectrum, allowing it to decrease the noise level and increase the capacity of the overall system, which is the big difference from repeaters, explained Sprint Technology COO Guenther Ottendorfer.

Femtocells have gotten a bad rap in wireless in general because they’re essentially a way to improve crappy service that customers have to install and, in some cases, pay for. Sprint said the Magic Box requires no implementation, labor or rental costs that are a hurdle for many traditional small cell deployments. The unit is placed near a window and plugged into a power outlet.

Sprint has other indoor small cell solutions that it can offer customers, but described this as a revolutionary new plug-and-play LTE small cell for businesses and consumers that improves data coverage and increases download and upload speeds on average by 200% in optimal conditions.

Sprint hasn’t attached a price tag on the equipment, saying it will be distributed to qualified customers. Exactly how those customers qualify is not entirely clear, but Sprint has already distributed more than 5,000 of them, so it’s confident in the technology. Initial deployments have already begun in cities such as Denver, San Francisco, Indianapolis, New York, Chicago and Houston.

Sprint reported that in the past three months download speeds across these markets have significantly improved as Sprint rolled out its toolkit of densification technologies such as Sprint Magic Box, outdoor small cells, three-channel carrier aggregation and launched new High Performance User Equipment (HPUE) smartphones.

Sprint also said the Magic Box was designed so that customers in surrounding areas will enjoy the benefits of the locally installed unit. One Sprint Magic Box provides average coverage of 30,000 square feet indoors and can benefit adjacent Sprint customers inside the building. The signal can also extend coverage 100 meters outside a building, so Sprint customers in nearby buildings and areas will see improvements as well in the network performance.