Sprint launches faster Spark service in Kansas City

01/30/2014 11:56 PM

01/30/2014 11:56 PM

Sprint Corp. is revving up its wireless network speeds in Kansas City with the launch Thursday of its Sprint Spark service.

Spark launched in five markets last October and has expanded to six others, making Overland Park-based Sprint’s hometown market No. 12 to see the faster speeds.

The local rollout also comes three weeks after RootMetrics, an independent network tester, reported that Sprint had the slowest wireless data network in the Kansas City area.

Consumers use data when they browse the Internet, watch videos, download apps and take advantage of other popular features of smartphones.

Bob Azzi, Sprint’s chief network officer, said Spark overcomes the data speed limits that RootMetrics’ tests had found and can move Sprint’s network to the top of the rankings — to stay.

“I’d say its a permanent differentiator from a technology perspective,” Azzi said.

Customers will notice the faster speeds only if they have upgraded to a Sprint phone or other mobile device with the Spark technology. Models from LG, Samsung and HTC are available, though not the iPhone.

Spark also is starting out with a “spotty” footprint in Kansas City, focused on parts of the market where Sprint customers use the most wireless data. The company’s announcement mentioned Brookside, the Legends area in Kansas City, Kan., downtown Kansas City and Overland Park as examples. The coverage will expand over time.

On Sprint’s network coverage maps, Spark will show up at the “turbo” layer of the company’s Long Term Evolution, or LTE, network, which is also referred to as 4G for “fourth generation.”

Azzi said Spark had been clocked at peak download speeds of 60 megabits of data per second. RotoMetrics had reported early this month that Sprint’s network delivered average download speeds of 6.1 megabits per second based on its tests made in November.

At the time, Azzi said Sprint’s network ran at slower speeds in Kansas City than rival networks because it operated with half the wireless spectrum. Spectrum is the licensed airwaves that carry the data to and from smartphones as their users stream video and browse online.

The technology behind Spark’s faster speeds includes a vast amount of additional wireless spectrum that Sprint gained with its purchase last year of its longtime wireless network partner Clearwire Corp.

Spark not only rolls out more spectrum but also uses it more effectively, Azzi said.

Sprint can use the Clearwire spectrum in a way that will keep the company’s network faster than its rivals’ at any given amount of spectrum in use. Spectrum is measured in megahertz.

“We can tweak our 20 (megahertz of spectrum) to be faster than their 20. We can tweak our 40 to be faster than their 40,” Azzi said.

He said Sprint has 60 megahertz of the Clearwire spectrum in the Kansas City market. That capacity and other technology will allow Spark to double its download speed to 120 megabits per second and then increase to 180 megabits per second by the end of 2015, Sprint said.

Those speeds will be increasingly important as smartphones perform more data-intensive tasks.

They also will be important to Kansas City’s economic development, said Bob Marcusse, president and chief executive of the Kansas City Area Development Council.

“It’s important because Sprint Spark will deliver superior wireless service and data speeds, which is vitally important to attracting entrepreneurs, startups and new businesses to Kansas City,” Marcusse said in Sprint’s announcement.

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