Sprint's Magic Box is a tiny indoor cell tower that improves coverage

Cell reception is a notoriously fickle thing — especially indoors. It’s easy enough to lock onto a signal if you’re standing next to a cell tower, but when you’re surrounded by thick walls, it’s a tad more challenging. Luckily, Sprint has the answer: A mini cellphone tower.

It’s aptly called the Sprint Magic Box, and Sprint is describing it as the “world’s first all-wireless small cell.” That’s jargon for a router that extends Sprint’s 4G LTE network coverage in places it wouldn’t normally reach. Setting it up couldn’t be easier — once it’s powered on for the first time and placed near a window, it automatically configures itself, connecting to a nearby cell site “within minutes.”

It’s what’s known as a femtocell, a small mobile base station that connects to a mobile network via the internet. They aren’t new, exactly — Verizon launched a 4G LTE femtocell with Samsung last year, and T-Mobile rolled the high-speed CellSpot out to subscribers with spotty connections in 2015 — but they’re traditionally targeted at enterprise. Sprint’s, in contrast, is available to Sprint’s “millions of […] home and business” customers.

sprint magic box life style 3 presskit

The Magic Box, which appears to be an updated version of the Airave femtocell Sprint deployed in 2007, is designed to extend coverage up to 30,000 square feet and 64 simultaneous connections. It’ll reach your neighbors, in some cases — Sprint said adjacent subscribers inside the building (and up to 100 meters outside) will be able to take advantage. And it’ll tap into Sprint’s 204 MHz and 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum to improve upload and download speeds up to 200 percent — more than any other U.S. carrier, the carrier said.

Sprint has already begun Magic Box deployments in several cities across the country, including Denver, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Houston.

CTO Dr. John Saw sees it as a complement to speed-boosting technologies like three-carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output), and high performance user equipment (HPUE) smartphones.

“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,” Saw said in a statement. “By leveraging our deep spectrum trove, Sprint has the ability to blanket its network with all-wireless small cells that delivers this kind of dramatic performance boost with zero backhaul, permitting, and engineering costs.”

Sprint’s Magic Box launch comes on the heels of other network improvements. In February, it enabled high-speed LTE Advanced support for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. And in March, it teamed up with Qualcomm to show off the “first U.S. deployment of Gigabit Class live on a commercial network with a forthcoming flagship premium tier smartphone.”

The Magic Box is available for pre-order now.

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