Sprint’s current ad campaigns brag about how the carrier is now “within 1%” of its competitors’ network reliability. Today, Big Yellow announced how it plans to close that gap and improve service in urban areas, without having to build new towers.
Sprint is calling the solution a “magic box,” and is rolling the devices out city by city. It’s not literally magic, though. It’s actually a small cell signal amplifier, about the size of a toaster.
Sprint has provided a handy page of animated GIFs and lifestyle images for media outlets so you can imagine what the device might look like with your home or office décor. No, really.
The device is wireless other than its electric cord and should be placed “near a window.” It doesn’t require any special setup, Sprint claims: it connects to the nearest Sprint tower and improves service for customers up to 100 feet outside of the building, as well as covering up to 30,000 square feet within an office or apartment building.
The device will be free to “eligible” customers, and Sprint hopes that the devices will help it to improve its coverage without actually building new towers. The carrier says that current users have doubled their upload and download speeds.
“The breakthrough new technology allows Sprint to very quickly and cost–effectively densify its nationwide LTE Plus network,” the carrier said in its press release, “and provide an improved experience for its millions of customers today and in the future.”
As customers who have tried to get out of a mobile contract due to spotty service at home know, asking customers to install their own tiny towers in their homes is nothing new in the wireless industry. During a darker time for Sprint’s network, the company used its Airave femtocell to keep customers from canceling their service.
Sprint used to charge a $50 setup fee and a $15 monthly fee for an Airave, and AT&T charged $150 and $20 monthly for a similar device. These fees could be waived if the customers were having problem with their service.
Will the Magic Box help Sprint improve its network that all-important 1% to 2%? Will customers volunteer to have their homes become tiny cell towers? This device is certainly better-promoted than the Airave ever was already, so that’s something.
Ultimately, this is all about planning for 5G. “Sprint Magic Box is going to quickly transform our network, and it is key to delivering an amazing experience to customers today as we build the kind of dense urban infrastructures needed for 5G,” Sprint’s chief technology officer, John Saw, said in a statement.