neXt Curve attended Sprint Business’ Analyst & Consultant Day 2019 held in Sprint’s office in Midtown Manhattan on the 25th of June with the goal of understanding how Sprint is progressing their enterprise strategy, executing on the evolution of their network toward 5G and building out their IoT platform and service offerings in becoming a “digital service provider”.
The morning started with an overview of Sprint’s business. Jan Geldmacher, President of Sprint Business, kicked off the packed agenda with the state of affairs. Michel Combes, CEO of Sprint, was supposed to open the one-day Sprint Analyst and Consultant Day 2019 held in the Sprint executive training center in Midtown Manhattan but he was suddenly called to D.C. Jan did a great job filling in for Michel and setting the stage for the program attended by dozens of the leading communications sector analysts and consultants.
The agenda for the day was as follows:
- Sprint Business Strategy & Update – Jan Geldmacher, Sprint Business President
- Sprint 5G Update – Dr. John Saw, Sprint Chief Technology Officer
- Sprint Curiosity IoT – Ivo Rook, SVP of IoT & Product Development and Kim Green-Kerr, SVP of Business Solutions
- Breakout Sessions on topics that included 5G, Curiosity IoT deep dive, AI -based services and products, wireline, and security.
Here are our key takeaways from our coverage of Sprint Business Analyst and Consultant Day 2019:
Coverage is key to a value-oriented 5G strategy & network evolution
Based on the prevailing noise about 5G, expectations are being set for ubiquitous near-zero latency, 20 gigabits per second mobile wireless network performance for billions if not trillions of connected devices that will usher in an era of self-driving, autonomous everything all rendered in 16K (believe us, it is coming sooner than we expect and we have barely made traction on the 4K curve). In the meantime, operators need to grapple with the realities of spectrum availability, the state of 5G technologies, economics and monetization, and their technological and organizational readiness to undergo the change needed to operate as a digital service provider.
Sprint’s angle on 5G evolution is focused on beginning with the mid-band (sub-6 Ghz) and low-band (600 Mhz) spectrum (assuming the merger with T-Mobile is approved by the DoJ) with the goal of providing coverage and availability of 5G mobile wireless services, which contrasts with Verizon and AT&T spearheading their 5G drives with mmWave which has resulted in Fixed Wireless Access deployments led by Verizon’s 5G Home service which was launched in October of 2018, and sparse and spotty initial deployments of 5G mobile wireless.
According to Sprint CTO, Dr. John Saw, Sprint is focusing less on the highest peak mobile network connection speed and more on average speeds across a coverage area. This philosophy makes a lot of sense considering that the killer 5G app continues to be as elusive as Big Foot and consumers (and many enterprises) don’t really know what 5G is. At the end of the day, it’s about quality of experience. Maybe this is a realization that Verizon has come to as their CEO, Hans Vestberg, asked the FCC to make mid-band spectrum available for operators earlier this month.
The modernization of the core network will unleash near-term value
Sprint continues to modernize both its wireline and mobile networks transitioning to software-defined (95% TDM turned down to date) and continuing the conversion from CDMA to LTE which is a critical step toward expanding Sprint’s potential network slicing capability across its LTE and emerging 5G networks. Like most operators who are planning or initiating their initial 5G foray, Sprint is deploying a Nonstandalone (NSA) 5G network running on top of an expanding LTE network core. Given Sprint’s mid-band driven 5G strategy, our view is that network slicing is a comparatively more important 5G capability for Sprint that will improve the utilization of their network and enable Sprint to offer new services and create new revenue models/streams – new value.
The race is on among U.S. operators to implement a 5G network core which will enable them to realize E2E (end-to-end) network slicing that will dramatically expand the scale, capability and operational benefits of network slicing. Verizon recently indicated that they would begin implementing a 5G network core in the next one to two years upgrading their current Nonstandalone 5G NR deployment to Standalone. We didn’t get an indication of when Sprint would begin their transition to 5G NR standalone (SA) but we suspect that it is on the roadmap. Our impression is that Sprint is focused on taking things one step at a time given the complex and challenging nature of evolving the network core from LTE to 5G.
Maybe being first to market is not being best to market. We are looking forward to updates during the course of the year from the Sprint team on the continuing evolution of their network.
IoT is not easy for operators. Will a platform-oriented approach work?
While 5G is the big bet by operators on their networks, the Internet of Things is the great hope for new value opportunities for telecom top line and enterprise customers realized through the next-generation network. Sprint is no exception. IoT is clearly the vital driver of the Sprint Business strategy that Jan outlined during the morning kick-off.
We were particularly excited to get an update on Sprint’s progress with their IoT platform deployment. It was September 2018 when Akshay Sharma first sat down with Ivo Rook, SVP of IoT and Product Development, on an expert panel hosted by Abe Nejad of The Network Media Group in which Ivo and Akshay discussed IoT Security with fellow panelists and security experts from Allot and Cisco. Ivo also introduced Curiosity IoT to us which was unveiled at Mobile World Congress Americas 2018.
On this day, Kim Green-Kerr, SVP of Business Solutions joined Ivo in unveiling new services built on the Curiosity IoT platform, new partnerships and their strategy for building out their IoT ecosystem on top of Sprint’s dedicated and fully-virtualized IoT core network called Curiosity Core. Kim and Ivo highlighted the following key developments and accomplishments:
- Global IoT Network Footprint – Ivo touted casual roaming in 185 countries in Sprint’s international expansion of its IoT network. He also cited 152 markets where permanent roaming is supported and agreements with 5 operators in major markets for core-to-core corridors which eliminate the need for roaming and tromboning to the cloud. In the U.S., Sprint now has 31 live IoT nodes and plans to quickly expand its portfolio of Curiosity Core, data collection and intelligence production nodes.
- Software & Microservice-Based IoT Platform Architecture – Ivo emphasized the importance of software and a microservice-based architecture while Nishi Kant, founder of Digitize Things, explained Curiosity OS (secure device & data management layer based on Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator platform) and Curiosity Software Bus (microservice/API and integration layer) which both sit on top of Curiosity Core.
- Strategic Partnerships – Ivo and Kim touted a number of strategic partnerships supporting the build out of their IoT ecosystem which took on a horizontal character. For example, Sprint’s partnership with Mapbox which was announced at MWC 2019 earlier this year. Mapbox is providing mapping, location as well as situational data to enable new Curiosity IoT applications and services for Smart Cities and industrial/supply chain applications. Sprint is also partnering with AWS for clients who want to use AWS IoT Analytics at the mobile network edge for their IoT applications.
- IoT Connectivity Made Easy – Kim provided an overview of IoT Factory which is Curiosity IoT’s online marketplace where users can configure and compose services needed to connect their IoT devices to the Curiosity IoT network. IoT Factory aspires to make it easy and simple for IoT developers to procure, provision and bind connectivity services to their IoT devices. Since its introduction, 26 solutions have been added to Factory 2.0 and Curiosity IoT has experienced 127% sales growth QoQ.
Overall, we were impressed with the progress that Ivo, Kim and the Sprint Business team have made over the last 10 months with Curiosity IoT and their plans for building out their ecosystem and the global Curiosity IoT footprint.
5G will have to evolve with 4G presenting complexity and opportunity to operators
4G LTE is not going away anytime soon and it is clear that Sprint recognizes this. The reality is that most 5G implementations planned and live are 5G NR Nonstandalone deployments. Dr. John Saw emphasized the importance of LTE/5G coexistence which Sprint is enabling through its revamped RAN and implementation of ENDC (E-UTRAN New Radio – Dual Connectivity), the 3GPP standard that allows devices to simultaneously access both LTE (enodeB) and 5G (gnodeB) networks.
What’s the big deal? ENDC effectively provides a dual path of connectivity for LTE and 5G on Sprint’s legacy WiMAX 2.5 Ghz spectrum enabling the same Massive MIMO RAN equipment to support mobile access to both technologies on the same spectrum band. At the moment, according to Dr. Saw, Sprint is the only operator supporting LTE/5G coexistence using ENDC which could be a competitive differentiator for the carrier. The hope is that Sprint will be able to create new 5G revenue opportunities sooner while improving churn rates with enhanced quality of service and experience across Sprint’s mobile wireless network for both new 5G and current 4G customers.
Implications for Business and Technology Leaders
As operators evolve their 5G strategies they should consider the near-term value opportunities of leveraging low-band and mid-band spectrum to improve overall quality of service for their customers who may or may not know or care what 5G is. Sprint is not the only operator that is considering initiating their 5G journey with mid-band spectrum. PCCW’s CTO, Paul Berriman, indicated that they would start their 5G deployment with 3.5 Ghz base stations in dense urban areas in Hong Kong. The best 5G network will not be the one with the best peak speeds. It’s about quality of experience and services across an operator’s coverage area.
It is clear that each operator’s evolution toward becoming a “digital service provider” is going to be a unique journey. Sprint’s ecosystem-centric IoT playbook is one that will hopefully play well to its relative strengths while shoring up its weaknesses. Assuming that a fraction of the IoT revenue opportunity will be in the connection, operators may need to play a bit less nice lest they are left with only the bit pipe albeit a very intelligent one.