Earlier today we gave you a glimpse at Sprint’s Overland Park campus, its Usability Lab, the Sprint Technology Integration Center and the carrier’s Mobile Technology Lab. Within that Mobile Technology Lab is a huge amount of fascinating equipment that we were not allowed to photograph. One box Sprint was happy to let us snap, however, was the Ericsson E-Node Base Transceiver System (BTS) pictured above. These devices find themselves at the center of Sprint’s forward-looking network efforts. Dubbed “Network Vision,” Sprint is in the process of upgrading and future-proofing its network — at least, to the extent a network can be future-proofed at this point. The E-Node BTS you see above and in the gallery below is an amazing advancement that will enable Sprint to realize this vision. The vertical “cards” you see pictured can be inserted and removed as easily as servers in a rack. Each one of these cards enables a network technology and is connected to an antenna cluster. So, for example, if Sprint was to reach a deal that would allow a partner to build out 4G LTE on Sprint’s network, Sprint engineers could simply add the appropriate LTE card to the BTS and off we go. Of course this is a bit oversimplified as there is plenty of intensive testing involved, but this is a monumental leap forward, and one that we hope will be adopted by other major carriers in the U.S. Sprint’s Network Vision program really is the future of the carrier’s network, and the technology and facilities behind it are incredible. Check out the gallery below for a closer look at the E-Node BTS.
Next up on our virtual tour of Sprint’s headquarters could very well be the most interesting facility yet — the Mobile Technology Lab, which is located on Sprint’s main campus here in Overland Park, Kansas. This massive facility houses 50,000 square feet of lab space, 360 tons of cooling equipment, and once a current upgrade project is completed it will contain a total of 15 miles of coaxial cable and 5 miles of fiber. Whereas the Sprint Technology Integration Center is focused on network testing, this monstrous lab focuses on device testing. The facility allows Sprint engineers to test nearly every imaginable aspect of a device that might concern Sprint, from battery and audio quality to monitoring and logging software events during a limitless number of usage cases. The photo tour begins with another RF chamber; this one is an anechoic isolation chamber that keeps all signals out to ensure that tests are not impacted by outside radio waves. The second room you see is actually a dual-walled isolation chamber that takes this concept a step further. The tests performed here can be so sensitive that even the monitoring equipment could ruin them. As a result, the test equipment is positioned outside the first door and then sealed off with the second. You’ll also see a set of three dials immediately after the double door chamber, and these actually control the amount of signal fed into the chamber. So, for example, Sprint engineers are able to see how devices operate with weak 3G signal, or even take performance readings as 4G signal drops and the device jumps to 3G. Finally, the gray head pictured is part of an audio quality test setup — we were not allowed to photograph the monitoring station — and the small room at the end is home to a station that tests devices’ ability to play various kinds of multimedia files. As we’re sure you’re beginning to understand at this point, handsets and other connected devices undergo extremely rigorous testing ahead of release… and the tastes you’re getting here are barely the tip of the iceberg.
And now comes the fun stuff. BGR on Wednesday toured a number of labs here at Sprint’s Midwest headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. Some we’re able to talk about and some we can’t unfortunately, but among the ones we can show you is the Sprint Technology Integration Center located down the road from Sprint’s main campus in Lenexa, Kansas. This facility houses 15,000 square feet of laboratory space and the teams that dwell within are focused on network performance testing; devices that enter this lab have already gone through third-party testing and will now undergo validation testing. Sprint has specific requirements outside of compliance standards in order to ensure that devices on its networks meet its high standards, and this lab is home to the majority of equipment used to perform those tests. Among the jewels to be found within the gallery linked below is the ever-popular RF chamber. Foam spikes… gel-filled head positioned oh so carefully… this is one of the staples of cellular labs that we all look forward to seeing. The RF chamber is designed to create very specific test environments for devices in order to provide a level of control that would otherwise be impossible to achieve. There are also a few shots of demos we were given of a couple different test setups, including navigation testing and streaming video testing. The full gallery can be seen via the link below.
As we mentioned earlier, Sprint is currently hosting reporters from BGR and four other publications at its massive headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. We gave you a tour of Sprint’s grounds earlier this morning, and now we’re happy to bring you a rare glimpse inside the Sprint Usability Lab here at the carrier’s campus. This building houses various facilities and equipment used to perform some of the product testing that helps shape the future of Sprint’s portfolio. User groups are brought in for a wide range of focus studies and device testing, and we were shown a variety of equipment Sprint uses to perform the tests. One such device, which can be seen in the last three images in the gallery below, is an eye tracker that allows Sprint’s usability experts to view and later analyze exactly what a user looks at while handling a device. We were shown a demo where the user handled a feature phone and viewed the device’s UI on the attached monitor. As the user flipped through the device’s interface, the equipment was able to track — in real time — exactly where the user was looking on the device’s interface. This type of study can then help Sprint build user interfaces and experiences that are arranged logically in accordance with user behavior, ultimately resulting in a more user-friendly experience. We have plenty more to come but in the meantime, enjoy the gallery below.
During Microsoft’s Windows Phone Mango press conference in New York today, the company confirmed that Nokia’s first Windows Phone devices will run the newest Mango operating system when they’re released. That suggests that the phones could land as soon as this fall, when Mango makes its debut. Microsoft also confirmed that it already has Nokia prototype devices running in its labs today. Other new partners include Fujitsu, Acer, and ZTE, and Microsoft said that we can expect new Windows Phones from Samsung, HTC, and LG as well.
AT&T’s “4G” message may be a bit convoluted when its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network begins to bear fruit. The company has already branded its HSPA network as “4G”, although the coverage and real world speeds are less than impressive — especially when compared to other HSPA+ networks, like that of T-Mobile. But that hasn’t stopped the nation’s second largest carrier from working on a second 4G network and, thankfully, this one seems to be bringing the downlink goods. Recently, blog GigaOM was treated to a tour of AT&T’s Foundry laboratory in Texas. The site reports seeing “real world speeds” of 28.87Mbps on the downlink and 10.4Mbps on the uplink. Much better than the paltry 5Mbps down and 1Mbps up being pumped out by the company’s current 4G, HSPA network. AT&T plans to launch its LTE network in several markets by the end of this year and hopefully… these speeds hold up. More →
Search giant Google has announced a new labs feature for their Gmail web-based email client called “video chat enhancements.” As Google explains:
Visit the Gmail Labs tab under Settings, turn on “Video chat enhancements,” and right away, you’ll see higher resolution video and a bigger video chat window.The higher resolution video uses a new playback mechanism which enables widescreen VGA and frees up valuable resources on your computer. For it to work, both you and the person you’re chatting with will need to have the lab turned on.
If you find yourself frequently using the video chat feature of Gmail, take the new feature for a spin and let us know what you think. More →