Sprint plans to add more than 540 jobs and 115 stores in the Chicago area along with its first LTE-Advanced upgrade in the nation. LTE Advanced has the potential of delivering 100 Mbps wireless download speeds.
The impact on the city of Chicago proper will be 300 new jobs by the end of 2015. Sprint will also install hundreds of new cellular sites in the city at an expected cost of $45 million by the end of 2016, Sprint said in a statement.
LTE Advanced has become more common around the globe in the past year and is being used in more than 30 countries, including the U.S., according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association. In some countries, LTE Advanced offers wireless download data speeds of up to 300 Mbps -- potentially 30 times faster than basic LTE, which has download speeds of 10Mbps to 20Mbps.
LTE Advanced uses different technologies to enhance speeds, but the earliest approach uses carrier aggregation. That lets operators treat two or three radio channels in different frequency bands as if they were one to send data at higher speeds.
AT&T has upgraded its network in several cities to LTE Advanced, including Chicago.
Sprint has the potential to reach 100Mbps in the Chicago upgrade by using channel aggregation, as well as MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) antennas and 8T8R (eight transmitters, eight receivers on a single radio), according to a spokeswoman. That 100Mbps would be about double the current Sprint LTE peak speeds of 50Mbps to 60Mbps.
8T8R radios have eight receiver pathways instead of just two, which increases the range of a cell signal and reduces the number of cell sites needed. Sprint will use them on the 2.5GHz band.
New technology from companies such as Alcatel-Lucent, Qualcomm and Intel has made the expansion of LTE Advanced possible.
Sprint said faster speeds will support video and other bandwidth-rich apps such as online games, virtual reality and cloud services.
In Chicago, new cell towers and cellular equipment placed on buildings and other structures will include areas around the Rush University Medical Center and along Chicago Transit Authority subway routes as well as the area surrounding Garfield Park on Chicago's West Side.
Chicago and its suburbs have about 10 million people, the third largest metro area in the nation.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the Sprint investment as supporting the city's economic growth. In addition to the $45 million network infrastructure investment, Sprint donated $250,000 to a Connect Chicago Challenge, formerly called the Broadband Challenge when announced in 2012. Part of its focus is on public access in neighborhoods in the city.
Like many large U.S. cities, Chicago faces a version of the digital divide, where Internet service is not widely used in poorer neighborhoods, even with the proliferation of wireless phones.
Sprint has also created a Chicago-focused team with a general manager to improve customer service, collaborate with community groups and simplify the purchasing experience for local wireless customers.
Wireless usage by Sprint customers has increased in Chicago by 640% since 2012 and Sprint has invested more than $548 million over that period, the company said.
Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure called Chicago the perfect city for a Sprint expansion, calling it "diverse, innovative and on the path to becoming a world-class technology leader."