Sprint offers a Magic Box to customers at its network’s edge

Sprint’s Magic Box plugs into a wall socket and addresses “challenges” customers may have with the network’s data speeds, coverage and performance.
Sprint’s Magic Box plugs into a wall socket and addresses “challenges” customers may have with the network’s data speeds, coverage and performance.

Sprint has a network job for its customers. Just plug in this Magic Box and set it on your window sill. They’ll send you one for free.

The box is a version of a small cell and uses different technology from the small cells Sprint is installing on poles and the sides of buildings in some markets. But the job is the same, to boost data speeds for customers currently getting less than they expected from the Sprint network.

“Every network has edges of coverage. What we have now is a very good solution for edges of coverage,” said Günther Ottendorfer, Sprint’s chief operating officer for technology.

Customers can pre-register for a Magic Box online, though they will need to qualify for a box to ensure they would benefit.

Sprint also plans to be proactive in pushing the devices out to its customer base. The company knows where customers have “challenges” and could target them specifically, said John Saw, Sprint’s chief technology officer.

“We have had thousands of customers who have tested this in a number of markets with the Magic Box,” Saw said.

Timothy Yu in Sacramento, Calif., got one of the boxes April 1 for his parents, who were seeing the batteries drain quickly on their Sprint phones. He said the weak signal meant their phones were switching constantly among three wireless frequencies that Sprint’s network uses.

“With the Magic Box installed, battery life on all devices was substantially increased,” Yu said in an email.

Sprint said the benefits of the boxes extend beyond the customers who plug them in. Each box improves data coverage not only in an average-sized small business or home but also outside the structure and in nearby buildings, particularly in denser urban markets.

The boost can extend across three to 10 houses, Ottendorfer said, depending on their proximity.

Sprint and other carriers have offered small cell in-home help in the past, but the Magic Box does not need an internet connection from the customer. It uses Sprint’s wireless signals to make the needed connection.

Ottendorfer said the improvement outside the building also differentiates this box from others.

About 5,000 boxes have been deployed so far. Inside each is a relay that Sprint said creates an “ultra-efficient connection” to the nearest Sprint cellular tower. That’s different from a repeater device, which Sprint said simply amplifies a signal including any noise it carries.

The boxes are among a number of tools Sprint said it has used in six “clusters” or parts of major metropolitan markets: Denver, San Francisco, Indianapolis, New York, Chicago and Houston. The company said it hired a testing firm to evaluate the networks of all four national carriers in those clusters.

Those tests, Sprint said, prove the concept of the tool box that Sprint is using to tailor its network improvements at spots throughout its coverage areas.

Sprint said the box will be provided free to customers who request one, though failure to return the box could lead to a $140 charge on a customer’s bill.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, @mdkcstar